Private associations may be subject to open records laws, court
NORTH DAKOTA–A private, nonprofit association that receives $60,000 in state funding for one of its publications and has 10 state agencies among its dues-paying members may be subject to the state open records act, according to a 4-1, mid-March decision by the North Dakota Supreme Court.
Reversing a late-winter 1994 state district court summary judgment for the Greater North Dakota Association, the high court ruled that the lower court should conduct a trial to determine whether GNDA falls within provisions of the state open records act and state constitution that make public “all records of … organizations or agencies supported in whole or in part by public funds.”
The trial court had granted summary judgment on grounds that the evidence did not present a genuine issue of whether the association was supported by public funds within the meaning of the statutory and constitutional provisions.
After learning in a 1993 state House Judiciary Committee hearing that GNDA had lobbied on tort reform and also received state funds, Rep. Jennifer Ring (D-Grand Forks) requested copies of GNDA records under the state open records act.
When GNDA denied her request, Ring asked the state attorney general for an opinion on the matter. The attorney general concluded in late February 1993 that the act applies to all GNDA records.
When GNDA still refused to provide the records, Ring, the Adams County Record, the Ashley Tribune, the Walsh County Record and the Walsh County Press asked the Burleigh County District Court in Bismarck to compel the association to disclose the records. They appealed when the district court granted GNDA summary judgment.
GNDA, a nonprofit corporation originally organized in 1925 under North Dakota law, lobbies to promote business interests in North Dakota. Government agencies hold 30 of the organization’s 1,000 memberships. In exchange for dues, members receive voting privileges, access to the association’s services and several association publications.
Agreements between GNDA and the state Department of Tourism allows one of those publications, North Dakota Horizons, to receive government funds. The most recent agreement gives Horizons $60,000 between 1993 and 1995 from a legislative grant to the Department of Tourism. (Adams County Record v. Greater North Dakota Ass’n; Media Counsel: Sharon Gallagher, Mandan, N.D.)