Back in December, we published an article that touched upon the issue of North Dakota’s Corrupt Practices law. In it, we highlighted examples of potential violations in relation to the City of Bismarck and its Mayor, Mike Seminary. Last month, we featured an article about the allegations from two of Bismarck’s city employees saying that Seminary was inappropriately collecting signatures in his bid for re-election as well.
While some people find these examples petty, there’s reasons behind the law. For example, in the situation regarding Mike Seminary collecting signatures for his petition, he was doing it on city property. This is prohibited according to the law. And as the two employees from the City of Bismarck pointed out, would Seminary’s opponent have the same degree of access to city property and employees?
One of the criticisms of the Corrupt Practices law is that it’s seldom enforced. But just a week ago, McKenzie County settled a case brought against Alexander City councilman Jerry Hatter. Apparently Hatter – who also happens to be a former Mayor of Alexander – violated the law. This occurred while he was participating in the city’s Old Settlers Days Parade last September. Hatter hung a bedsheet from a fire truck, with the words “Vote for Hatter” painted on it.
Hatter had lost re-election for Mayor in 2016, but was running to fill a vacated seat on the city council in a September special election– in which he won by two votes.
The decision to hang the bedsheet on the fire truck was not only questioned, but ultimately North Dakota’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) looked into the matter and charged him with a Class A misdemeanor for using state services or property for political purposes. Initially, Hatter entered a plea of not guilty, but McKenzie County State’s Attorney Chas Neff offered to drop the case if Hatter would resign his position– which he did.
If Hatter had been convicted of the charges, he would have faced up to a year in prison.
These examples of Corrupt Practices in Bismarck and Alexander aren’t isolated cases. Since we published our first article on the subject, I’ve had readers mention other situations they’re aware of that would violate this section of law as well.
To be fair, I’m certain many people don’t realize they’re violating the law when the more simple infractions occur. Nevertheless, I believe we need to do a better job in this state of raising awareness of the issue. Not only will doing so prevent future violations, but it creates a more even playing field for candidates and ensures that taxpayers are not having public resources used for “political purposes”.
A better understanding of the Corrupt Practices law makes all of us more informed and serves as a protection in the political process. I think that’s a good thing.