Tracker Pixel for Entry

Interest groups lobbying on the taxpayer dime

by Rob Port | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Say Anything | November 5th, 2015

Like every other state in the union North Dakota has a host of state boards and commissions that were created to administer licensing and discipline for various occupations.

Yet increasingly the mission of these groups has crept into the arena of political advocacy.

During the 2015 legislative session at least seven regulatory boards had lobbyists registered to be able to lawfully work to influence legislators, according to a database maintained by the secretary of state’s office. The boards included the Board of Engineers and Land Surveyors, the Board of Nursing, the Board of Physical Therapy, the State Board of Architecture, the State Board of Dental Examiners, the Board of Podiatric Medicine, and the State Board of Medical Examiners.

During the 2014 campaign season the State Bar Association used legally required licensing dues to spend tens of thousands of dollars on defeating Measure 6, which was aimed at reforming child custody laws.

Whatever your position on that measure, the use of licensing fees to pay for political activism was dubious from a legal and ethical standpoint. Ultimately the Bar Association was sued and issued refunds to its members.

Yet the larger issue with official regulatory boards morphing into political advocacy groups remains. Change, though, may be on the horizon.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem may have put a roadblock up on this mission creep last week. “It is my opinion that a state agency or political subdivision may not use public funds to hire a lobbyist,” Stenehjem wrote in a letter opinion requested by Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner (R-Dickinson), “unless such authority is specifically provided for by statute or if the state agency or political subdivision has authority to promote or advocate in specific subject areas.”

That seems clear enough. Unless the law explicitly allows for it, state regulator boards may not hire lobbyists.

What prompted Wardner’s request was a heated battle over Senate Bill 2354, which sought to address a shortage in dental services by creating in the law an “advanced dental hygienist” position. The people filling this position would have been allowed to do some of the more routine procedures -- tooth extractions, for instance -- that are now reserved by law to dentists.

The Board of Dental Examiners hired a lobbyist to fight the bill, no doubt because the dentists saw it as watering down demand for their services. After all, people paying an advanced dental hygienist to pull a tooth would not be paying a dentist for that service, and that’s not good for the bottom line of dentists.

But, again, whatever your position on that reform of the law, should dentists be able to use their regulatory board as an instrument of advocacy to defeat it? Should the citizens supporting the bill, perhaps including some dissenting dentists, have to fight off a political campaign orchestrated by an official state agency?

The Board of Dental Examiners was certainly very successful during the legislative session. SB2354 bombed when brought to the Senate floor, losing on a 6-40 vote despite getting a “do pass” recommendation from the Senate Human Services Committee.

There’s nothing at all wrong with working to influence the political process. Oftentimes Americans use the term “lobbying” as a sort of epithet, but really anyone who has ever expressed an opinion on an issue to someone in a position of official authority is guilty of the practical definition of the term, if not the legal one.

We wouldn’t have a democracy if those making policy weren’t available to be influenced by their constituents. If the dentists don’t like the idea of advanced dental hygienists, or if the lawyers don’t like proposed changes to child custody laws, then they have every right to speak their minds either individually or through some private organization.

But the key word is “private.” These powerful occupational interests shouldn’t be able to bend official licensing and discipline boards to their political will, and they certainly shouldn’t be able to use legally required licensing fees -- which, by law, are state dollars -- to pay for their activism.


In fact, it might be time to question why we’re even bothering to license some of these occupations. I’m looking at you, North Dakota Board of Barbering.

RECENTLY IN

Say Anything

Recently in:

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Savanna’s Act passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate on Friday and will move to the U.S. House of Representatives.The bill, S. 1942, is named for Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band…

by Ryan Jankeryan.janke78@gmail.comI held it off for as long as I could, but the other day, I caved. I thought I was doing okay. I made all the strong arguments. I applied the five canons of rhetoric, just like you’re supposed…

Saturday, December 15th, 3-6pmJunkyard Brewing Company, 1416 1st Ave N, MoorheadCome bare the elements with us for a good cause. Bring your spare winter gear to be donated to Churches United for the Homeless. Coats, gloves, boots,…

by Josh Boscheejoshua.boschee@yahoo.comphoto courtesy of Mitch MarrEight words that perfectly describe the beautiful spirit of Kim Winnegge."I have given my whole life to words."Those of us who knew her remember these words as a…

Gadfly

Affluenza

by Ed Raymond

What happens if conspicuous consumption becomes global?The latest National Geographic has an editorial “The Global Peril of Inequality” by UCLA Professor Jared Diamond which the entire world should read. The author of many…

FARGO - A collection of memories from High Plains Reader's annual Cocktail Showdown. Participants were judged on creativity, flavor, and presentation; and this year we added a new category. Like years before, each establishment was…

by Ben Myhrebenmyhre35@gmail.comUs North Dakotans love our Knoephla soup. I am no exception. I have fond childhood memories of sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen making this dumpling soup. From then until today, my taste buds go…

Music

Snow and Flurry

by HPR Contributor

by Jacques Harvieux jacquesthejock@gmail.comMosh pit etiquette 101: The mosh pit is located front and center of the stage.Create a sizeable ring.When the music starts unleash mayhem. If you fall - get up immediately.If somebody…

“The Diary of a Teenage Girl” director Marielle Heller beautifully translates another personal autobiography to excellent results. “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” is based on the confessional 2008 memoir of literary forger Lee…

SEBEKA, Minnesota – Nearly a century ago the nation was racked by inclement weather, soaring unemployment, and despair following World War I and the lucrative Roaring 20s. The 1930s were an era of dust storms and lunch lines,…

by Ryan Jankeryan.janke78@gmail.comFargo-Moorhead Community Theatre presents “A Christmas Story: The Musical” which is underway at the Stage at Island Park and will run through December 22. It has been promoted as a show both…

Those who have been reading my articles for a while may remember when I interviewed Zachary Tooker about the Level Two Comedy Club at the Radisson in Fargo. While the club may have unfortunately closed, Tooker has not ceased…

by Gabrielle Herschgabbyhersch@gmail.comphotography by Logan MacraeEver wish you could go to your favorite brewery without leaving your house? Finally, you can (sort of). Kilstone Brewing is now doing limited can releases of some…

I’m a big man, I’m tall and powerful, but this also causes some issues in the body department. I suffer from acute scoliosis in my lower back, and pain radiates from this area on a daily basis. I have only ever had one massage…

by Devin Joubertdevinlillianjoubert@gmail.comIt’s that beautiful time of the year that’s filled with seasonal decorations, sparkly lights, warm family gatherings, and delicious feasts. I love everything about this time of the…

“(Søren) Kierkegaard…has opened our eyes to the shallowness of much of our pseudo-Christian life, and to the outright deception in politics which Christianity has been made to serve.” - William Hubben“The people starve…