Why do some legislators want to keep school board election financing secret?

HB 1257 and HB 1116 treats school board candidates the same as all candidate in disclosing campaign finances, the House Political Subdivisions does not think that is needed. Why?

I’ve run for a few offices over the years. In 2009 and 2011, I ran for Mandan School Board, and in 2018 I ran for Bismarck School Board. All three of these times I was amazed that school board candidates do not have to file campaign disclosure like all other state and local candidates. It is an exemption that is ripe for abuse because when there is no disclosure, there is no way to prevent fraud, abuse, or frankly money laundering.

Back in the old days, when it did not take much money to run for office, this was probably fine. But the times have changed. And the laws on transparency need to change with them. Back in 2009, I spent $2,000 in the famously “canceled election” in Mandan. I am quite sure that other elections around the state have become even more expensive.

One of the objections during the hearing was the administrative cost of having county, city, and school staff collect and track the reports.

That’s a fake argument - since the legislature could just require these candidates file with the online campaign finance reporting system on the Secretary of State’s website - that they themselves use!

The other objection is that requiring disclosure will prevent some people from running. Why? Unless they can’t do accounting or are already playing games with money, there should be no reason that disclosure prevents anyone from running for school boards, or any other office.

Two bills last week were heard by the House Political Subdivision Committee on this issue. HB 1257 and HB 1116. The committee voted overwhelmingly to recommend DO NOT PASS both bills.

House Floor Votes In Favor Of HB 1116

As I was writing this article, the House floor actually voted in favor of HB 1116 by a vote of 55 Yea to 37 Nay.

Prior to the session, this was a bill that seemed to be sort of a no-brainer and did not need to be guided. Clearly, it’s not as clear-cut among some legislators, and they need to hear from you.

Please consider contacting your legislators about the need for the same transparency in school board elections as exists for all other state and local elections.

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