By JAMES MacPHERSON Associated Press
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A campaign over whether to impose term limits on North Dakota lawmakers and the governor is a mismatch so far — at least financially.
U.S. Term Limits, a Washington, D.C.-based group, has contributed more than $810,000 in the past two years to get the ballot proposal before voters, while lawmakers and opponents complain they can't keep up with out-of-state interests.
"We have no money," said Bismarck Republican Rep. Mike Nathe, who is leading a loosely organized group of GOP lawmakers and others who oppose the measure. They call it an "attack" on voters' rights to choose the candidate they want, and argue that it diminishes institutional knowledge and shifts power to lobbyists, agencies and the governor.
Supporters say term limits bring in new blood and increase voter participation.
Many Democratic and Republican lawmakers have spoken out against the measure. Republican Gov. Doug Burgum supports it.
Nathe said his ad-hoc group is banking on social media, letters to the editor and word-of-mouth to persuade voters term limits are a bad idea. Voters would sour on the idea if they knew more about it, and that it's being led by an out-of-state group that term-limit foes believe want to dictate how state government should operate, he said.
"We're just trying to educate people about the measure and about how bad we think it is for the future of North Dakota," said Nathe, a funeral home owner who has been in the Legislature since 2009.
Nathe released a list of state organizations that have joined in opposing the term limit measures, including the state's largest business group, and organizations representing energy, education and agriculture.
But none have contributed money so far. Nathe said that's because there has been no time to organize and raise funds after the North Dakota Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the measure should be on the November ballot. The court ruled that Secretary of State Al Jaeger had erred in rejecting the measure over notary violations in some petitions.
Scott Tillman, the national field director for U.S. Term Limits, said his group has always been upfront about its involvement in the North Dakota measure since it started last year.
"We're not trying to hide that we're involved," Tillman said.
The group spent about $330,000 on its signature-gathering effort, and another $275,000 in its lawsuit with the state, Tillman said. It has spent about $75,000 so far on television commercials in Bismarck and Minot markets, and will spend more money to push the ads statewide soon, he said.
The measure's sponsoring committee includes several lawmakers linked to the ultraconservative Bastiat Caucus, as well as several new GOP district chairmen. It has raised about $45,000 in addition to contributions from the out-of-state group, campaign filings show.
Measure 1 would add a new article to the state constitution, effective Jan. 1, 2023, imposing term limits of eight cumulative years each in the House and Senate. The governor could not be elected more than twice. Term limits would not be retroactive, which means the service of current officeholders would not count against them.
The measure that voters will consider makes no mention of "term limits." Tillman said the ads will feature the term prominently.
North Dakota is the only state where term limits are on the ballot in November, and the only state at present where Tillman's group is actively pushing for them.
Fifteen states have term limits for lawmakers; 36 states have gubernatorial term limits.
U.S. Term Limits also helped fund a failed term-limit campaign in 1996 in North Dakota, contributing more than $100,000 toward that effort.