North Dakota taxpayers reportedly had to pay about $200,000 to send 29 of their state’s lawmakers to the recent National Conference of State Legislatures in Nashville.
As The Tennessee Star reported last month, officials in the African nation of Kenya made some of their residents angry after they sent a large delegation to the same conference. Kenyan taxpayers had to pay for it.
But as for North Dakota taxpayers, Rob Port of that state’s SayAnythingBlog.com, said too few mainstream media outlets are reporting about their legislators’ trip and expenses.
“You probably haven’t heard much about it since both Republicans and Democrats were on the trip and most of our media commentators are so thoroughly addled by partisanship they get frozen when the controversy is bipartisan,” Port wrote.
Port then said his findings raise new questions in the context of some of that state’s new ethics rules.
“Per the records below the Nashville trip – which was to attend a summit of the National Conference of State Legislatures – cost $89,987.98 for meals, lodging, mileage, airfare, per diem, and miscellaneous expenses (there was some legislative staff on the trip in addition to the elected leaders),” Port wrote.
“On top of that, the State of North Dakota paid $129,770 to the NCSL for membership dues. That’s a lot of money, and while I’ve seen the NCSL be useful to the legislative process here in North Dakota in terms of providing data to inform policy decisions, I’m not convinced it’s over $200,000 worth of useful.”
North Dakota’s Legislative Management approved the trip, Port wrote.
“Where the ethical questions come in is the fact that a number of lobbyists were also on the trip to Nashville. Per the Minuteman post, a photo from Nashville was put on Facebook by Rep. Jake Blum (R-Grand Forks) and features a number of lawmakers who were on the trip along with Ryan Kelly, Lacee Bjork Anderson, Donnell Preskey, Don Larson, and Megan Smith Houn who are all registered lobbyists in the State of North Dakota,” Port wrote.
Per the North Dakota Constitution, a lobbyist may not knowingly give, offer, solicit, initiate, or facilitate a gift to a public official. A public official may not knowingly accept a gift from a lobbyist.
“That section of the law goes on to state that a gift ‘means any item, service, or thing of value not given in exchange for fair market consideration, including gifts of travel or recreation,'” Port wrote, adding there were some possible ambiguities whether anything improper occurred.
According to The National Conference of State Legislatures’ website, the event took place in Nashville, Aug. 5-8.
Scheduled presenters were Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Jon Meacham, former Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker, and current Illinois Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
Country Music singer Dolly Parton and CNN political contributor Van Jones were also scheduled to present, according to the group’s website.
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