Citizens say they were ‘exploited’ by ad promoting North Dakota ballot measure

By Rob Port | Watchdog.org North Dakota Bureau

EXPLOITIVE AD: A group of sportsmen say their images were used in marketing for a North Dakota ballot Measure they don’t support. Al Freidig, Clint DeVier, and Steve Dahl (pictured in rear from the left) say they agreed to be filmed for a state tourism ad and had no idea they could end up in a political ad. A fourth man also pictured in the ads, Jeff Katzer, says his association with the ballot measure is hurting his business.

BISMARCK, N.D. — A group of sportsmen who agreed to appear in advertising for the North Dakota Tourism Department were surprised to find themselves appearing in marketing for a controversial ballot measure.

“They have a right to do it,” Devils Lake resident Clint DeVier told Watchdog, “But I don’t support (Measure 5). It’s too much money.”

If approved, Measure 5 would amend the state constitution to divert 5 percent of the state’s oil taxes into a fund for conservation. The state’s industrial commission would oversee grants out of the fund used for conservation and recreation projects, and would be required to spend 75 percent of the funds every year. At current oil production numbers, the measure is expected to divert as much as $300 million every two years.

Conservation groups, lead by Ducks Unlimited, have spent millions to put the measure on the ballot and tout it to voters. But some of their campaign ads feature people who aren’t on their side in the debate.

“We worked very hard to create that footage to promote North Dakota,” Al Freidig, a realtor who lives and works in Devils Lake, told Watchdog. “Now we’re in something we would never, ever support. It’s just really unfortunate that they stooped to this level.”

Freidig, DeVier and two other men volunteered to be filmed and photographed for an ad campaign created by the North Dakota Tourism Department promoting fishing and hunting in the state. They signed releases allowing for the use of their images, and were not paid for their time.

But on Aug. 26 an employee of the Hamburger Company, a Washington, D.C.-based marketing firm working on behalf of Measure 5 supporters, contacted the Tourism Department about using some of the footage.

Initially, Tourism Director Sara Otte Coleman resisted granting permission for the footage to be used in political ads, but Assistant Attorney General Edward Erickson advised in a Sept. 10 email to Coleman that the footage must be provided.

“One concern that I had is the prohibition against use of state property for political purposes, NDCC § 16.1-10-02,” Erickson wrote. “However, in my opinion this law does not apply to this situation as the property in question is being made freely available to all persons. It is similar to the use of the Capitol building as a background for political advertising or use of public spaces within the Capitol for interviews or political events, which was approved by the Supreme Court in Saefke v. VandeWalle.”

Once it became clear the images of these men would be appearing in political ads, Coleman told Watchdog her department sent them letters warning them, but due to address changes not all were received.

“It’s just kind of a stinky deal,” said Steve Dahl, a Devils Lake-based fishing guide who was another of the men shown in the ad. “You try to help out the North Dakota tourism and then this out-of-state group gets a hold of it and exploits you while they’re trying to ram Measure 5 down everyone throats.”

Jeff Katzer, a hunting guide from the Devils Lake area, said the ad has hurt his business. “I’m getting a lot of flak from farmers,” he told Watchdog. “They are not letting me on their land. It’s like I’ve got to plead my case and convince them I’m innocent.”

Katzer, Dahl, DeVier and Fredig appear in at least two pro-Measure 5 ads for the North Dakotans for Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks. One called “Hunters” features all four. Another called “Teacher” also features Katzer.

The NDCWWP was unapologetic about using the men in advertising in a posting from its official account on Twitter. “It’s called a stock photo,” the group wrote. “They participated in the shoot and anyone can use it. Plus they fish, so they should vote #YESon5.”

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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