We’re in the “red zone” for the election year, with early voting having commenced and election day just a few weeks away, and for some reason Democrats have decided to make an open records request by a Republican-aligned marketing firm for student data that is public record a really big issue.
At issue is Odney Advertising head Pat Finken making a request for student directory data to the state’s universities. This data, containing contact information for students, is public record and is routinely provided to marketing firms. But for some reason, probably having to do with worries over the student vote this cycle, Democrats have gone apoplectic. They’ve asked Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem to stop the universities from providing data. Now a couple of Democrat legislators – Representatvies Kyle Oversen of Grand Forks and Josh Boschee of Fargo – are claiming that use of the data by Odney would constitute a violation of the state’s corrupt practices law.
Which is silly. Public records get used for political purposes all the time. Democrats themselves file open records requests routinely for political purposes. In fact, earlier this year Democrat Agriculture Commission candidate Ryan Taylor filed a complaint when the North Dakota Industrial Commission took too long in responding to his campaign’s request for public records.
My guess is his campaign probably wanted those records for a political purpose.
What the corrupt practices portion of the North Dakota Century Code prohibits is the use of public property or services for political purposes. But public records are neither property (i.e. a building or piece of equipment) nor are they a service provided to the government. Public records are simply information. If using that information for a political purpose violates state law, then Democrats have violated it repeatedly themselves.
But the Democrats’ accusations against Republicans raise an interesting question. Have they ever requested student directory information for their campaigns?
I asked that question of North Dakota Democrat executive director Chad Oban.
His answer? Well, he’s not saying. I contacted Oban about it yesterday morning, and so far he hasn’t replied to my message.
Someone who the Democrats will talk to should ask Democrats if they’ve ever requested student data. My guess is that they have, but it should would be nice for Democrats to come clean on it one way or another.