Package of bills seeks ethics reform in North Dakota

F grade from State Integrity Investigation brings push for new oversight

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Lawmakers in North Dakota have introduced a package of ethics reform bills that would revamp the state’s oversight of its politicians. Dubbed the Sunshine Act, the measures  would create an ethics commission to investigate state officials and would tighten campaign finance reporting rules, among other changes.

Rep. Corey Mock, a Democrat, has been pushing for ethics reform unsuccessfully since entering office in 2009. But last year, Mock seized on the state’s poor showing in the State Integrity Investigation, which gave North Dakota an overall grade of F, and announced he would introduce several bills once the legislature reconvened, saying that he hoped the report would improve the chances of passing such initiatives.  "The CPI study was an eye-opener," Mock told The Huffington Post in August.

In March, North Dakota received an F in eight of 14 categories from the State Integrity Investigation, which ranked state governments on transparency and accountability. The report, a collaboration of  the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International, placed North Dakota 43rd out of 50 states. The lack of an ethics commission and lax campaign finance laws—each of which would be changed by Mock’s legislation—were chief among the reasons for the state’s poor showing.

Some lawmakers and independent observers in the state said the ranking missed the fact that a state with fewer than 700,000 people does not require the same level of complex and robust accountability laws as bigger states, such as Illinois.

“They don’t really realize sometimes that these small population states like ours, we’re really like a small town in a sense,” Jack McDonald, a media attorney and lobbyist, told the State Integrity Investigation last year. “So, in state government, everybody knows what everybody is doing … it would be very difficult to get away with anything in North Dakota.”

While the state has not been rocked by major ethics scandals, the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, a North Dakota newspaper that first reported the bills, said the Sunshine Act has bipartisan support.