Democrats and left-wing activists making wild legal accusations before election day, which ultimately get rejected after election day, has become something of a tradition in North Dakota.
During the 2012 election cycle it was a lawsuit, filed by a group of environmental activists and touted during their campaigns by Democrats on the statewide ballot like Pam Gulleson and Brad Crabtree, alleging that the state’s Public Service Commissioners had taken bribes when they accepted campaign contributions from people who work in the coal industry. Ultimately that lawsuit was tossed by a federal judge in March 2013.
Flash forward to the 2014 cycle when a group of Democrats accused Republican-aligned marketing firm Odney Advertising of breaking the law when the firm used student email addresses, obtained by way of an open records request fulfilled by the North Dakota University System, in a political campaign.
“Earlier today, Senator Mac Schneider and Representatives Kylie Oversen and Joshua Boschee sent a letter to the Grand Forks Sheriff’s Office and the Cass County Sheriff’s Office requesting an investigation into a potential violation of the Corrupt Practices Act by the Brighter Future Fund, a ‘Super PAC’ with close ties to the Odney Advertising Agency,” an election day press release from the North Dakota Democrat Party read.
You can see the letter they sent here. They allege, rather ludicrously, that it is somehow a use of public resources for political purposes to send politically-themed emails to state-owned email addresses. That’s ludicrous because a) sending to an address is not the same as sending from an address and b) the email address in question were personal student email accounts which are different from official public emails maintained for official use by public servants.
Not surprisingly, and just like the allegations in the 2012 cycle, these accusations made by Democrats were rejected by authorities.
“In my opinion, there is no criminal violation, and I am declining to pursue the matter further,” wrote Grand Forks State’s Attorney Peter Welte in a December 19, 2014, email.
“Among other things, I talked with Josh Boshee [sic] (one of the letter’s authors) and the NDSU general counsel (about the use of student e-mails), as well as reviewed the open records and corrupt practice statutes,” Cass County State’s Attorney Birch Burdick wrote in a January 8, 2015, email. “I see no criminal law violation here.”
You can read the full emails below.
Keep in mind that Schneider is a practicing attorney, and that Oversen is a law school student. All three signatories on the original complaint letter are lawmakers. They should all have a better than average grasp of the law in this situation.
Which just illustrates how purely partisan and political the original complaint was. I don’t think the folks at Odney should hold their breaths waiting for an apology.
We can have a debate about whether or not student directory information should be a public record. Indeed, there is legislation (SB2360) introduced by Schneider to allow disclosure of directory information only with an opt-in from the student. But as it stands now the information is public, and the public can obtain that information and use it as it pleases.
Honestly, I’m not sure why this is such a big deal. Universities have often published student directories right on their websites where anyone could collect information like names, majors, email addresses, phone numbers, etc. Some attitudes about personal information are changing in this digital age, which is understandable, but let’s also keep the matter in perspective.