Two days ago, Rep. Jeff Magrum (R – District 28) introduced House Bill 1256 to the House Government and Veterans Affairs Committee. The bill is likely to draw passionate discussion once it hits the floor for debate.
If HB 1256 were to become law, it would prohibit two things:
- State and political subdivisions from soliciting, accepting, or using any “grants or donations from private persons for elections operations or administration.”
- The governor from endorsing or making “contributions, directly or indirectly, to a candidate for an office of a member of the legislative assembly.”
Section 1 stems from Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg spending in excess of $400 million towards “improving the safety and efficiency of voting sites” in the United States. As reported by Forbes, Zuckerberg did this through a Chicago-based nonprofit known as Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL).
CTCL “offers grants for jurisdictions like cities and counties to apply for help to support their elections.” According to their own website, 41 of North Dakota’s 53 counties received grants last year. But not everyone is keen on the idea of people like Zuckerberg funneling money into our elections this way.
While Section 1 is worthy of consideration on its own, it was Section 2 that resulted in a lot of discussion in the committee hearing. Much of it stemmed from two things— Governor Doug Burgum’s involvement in last year’s elections, with his Dakota Leadership PAC, and First Amendment concerns surrounding this section of the proposed legislation.
As I’m sure you remember, Governor Burgum did his very best to oust conservatives in a number of races last year. The most notable among them was his effort to defeat incumbent District 8 legislator, Rep. Jeff Delzer. Burgum was successful, but his candidate of choice (David Andahl) passed away before the General Election. Though deceased, Andahl won anyhow and Burgum tried to play kingmaker by appointing a replacement. But the North Dakota Supreme Court stopped it. Ultimately, District 8 Republicans appointed Delzer to fill the position.
As I mentioned before, Delzer wasn’t the only one Governor Burgum tried to take out. Among his targets was Rep. Magrum himself. Only he came through the onslaught victorious.
The primary concern with Magrum’s effort to prohibit the governor from endorsing or making contributions to a candidate for the legislature rests on the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. This was brought up a number of times in the committee hearing.
To counter that, Rep. Magrum argues that HB 1256 conforms to Article V, Section 10 of the North Dakota State Constitution. It reads:
“A governor who asks, receives, or agrees to receive any bribe upon any understanding that the governor’s official opinion, judgment, or action shall be influenced thereby, or who gives or offers, or promises the governor’s official influence in consideration that any member of the legislative assembly shall give the member’s official vote or influence on any particular side of any question or matter upon which the member may be required to act in the member’s official capacity, or who menaces any member by the threatened use of the governor’s veto power, or who offers or promises any member that the governor will appoint any particular person or persons to any office created or thereafter to be created, in consideration that any member shall give the member’s official vote or influence on any matter pending or thereafter to be introduced into either house of the legislative assembly, or who threatens any member that the governor will remove any person or persons from office or position with intent in any manner to influence the action of that member, must be punished in the manner now, or that may hereafter be, provided by law, and upon conviction thereof forfeits all right to hold or exercise any office of trust or honor in this state.” (Underlined for emphasis.)
Admittedly, there’s a lot to unpack there. And at the end of it all, the question remains— Would this be a violation of the governor’s right to Free Speech? Or is it reasonable to argue that this is more about restrictions on the office — not the man — and therefore a protection of the Separation of Powers?
Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of this bill is the fact that the two sections are in the same piece of legislation. I personally believe that Section 1 would have a chance at passing on its own. But Section 2 may put the whole thing in jeopardy. Not only are some lawmakers giving the cold shoulder to the proposed limitations on the governor, but it’s a certainty that Doug Burgum would veto the bill if it came to his desk.
Aside from concerns about the First Amendment or how the bill is written, one thing is certain. It’s not every day we see someone willing to take on Mark Zuckerberg and Doug Burgum— at the same time.
Let us know your thoughts about the legislation in the comments.
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- North Dakota Legislative Branch Video (nd.gov)
- House Bill No. 1256 – Sixty-seventh Legislative Assembly of North Dakota – LC Number 21.0377.02000 (nd.gov)
- Zuckerberg Donates Additional $100 Million To Support Election Efforts While Facebook Accused Of Spreading More Misinformation (forbes.com)
- Center for Tech and Civic Life – Harnessing the promise of technology to modernize the American voting experience
- The Cybersecurity 202: Courts rule election money from Facebook founder will stay despite conservative attempts to reverse it – The Washington Post
- Sudden death of North Dakota candidate raises questions about election | Jamestown Sun
- Should Gov. Burgum Get to be Kingmaker in District 8? – The Minuteman Blog
- Bill would bar contributions from North Dakota governor | Govt-and-politics | bismarcktribune.com