A SAB reader who also happens to be a registered lobbyist here in North Dakota sent me the photo of a letter, which you can read below, sent out as a fundraising pitch from House Minority Leader Kenton Onstad, a Democrat from District 4 (the lobbyist’s name has been redacted for obvious reasons).
I’m told this letter went out to “every lobbyist.” I can’t verify whether or not that’s true, but after a few phone calls and emails I can say it went out to quite a few.
“I ask for your financial assistance to get highly qualified candidates elected to the North Dakota House of Representatives,” the letter reads. “Can I count on you and your organization?”
That may be a problem. Rep. Onstad sent the letter on official state letterhead which bears the state seal.
That appears to violate at least two sections of the law.
Under North Dakota state law the use of public resources generally, and the use of the state seal specifically, for political purposes is forbidden under the law. Under Chapter 54-02 of the North Dakota Century Code, it is a class B misdemeanor for anyone to “Place or cause to be placed the great seal, or any reproduction of the great seal, on any political badge, button, insignia, pamphlet, folder, display card, sign, poster, billboard, or on any other public advertisement, or to otherwise use the great seal for any political purpose.”
A class B misdemeanor is punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to 30 days in jail.
Further, Chapter 16.1-10 of the Century Code states that it is a “corrupt practice” to “use any property belonging to or leased by, or any service which is provided to or carried on by, either directly or by contract, the state or any agency, department, bureau, board, commission, or political subdivision thereof, for any political purpose.”
I’ve emailed Onstad about the matter. I’ll update the post if I receive a response.
What’s ironic is that Democrats, including Onstad’s own Assistant Minority Leader, know all about this law and they’re not in a position to write it off as a trivial matter. Because they certainly didn’t when a Republican was guilty of an infraction.
In the 2012 cycle Democrats made a stink about a Republican legislative candidate in the Grand Forks area using the state seal in a campaign flyer. The candidate, John Mitzel, said it was a miscommunication between himself and the graphic artist responsible for the flyer, but that didn’t stop Assistant Minority Leader Corey Mock from suggesting that Mitzel out to be prosecuted for the flub.
“It is my understanding that these matters have been forwarded to the Grand Forks County state’s attorney for investigation and further action,” Mock told the Huffington Post. “Unfortunately, most state’s attorneys turn a blind eye to campaign and election laws in our state, allowing candidates and elected officials to play into the narrative that North Dakota is the most corrupt state in the country.”
Mock didn’t pull any punches. Referring also to a campaign banner which was missing the “paid for by” language required by state law, he fired with both barrels. “There is no excuse for candidates running for the legislature, or at any level, to allegedly commit multiple, egregious violations of state law while trying to earn the votes of their neighbors,” Mock told the left-wing media outlet.
What Mitzel did with regard to the state seal was certainly against the law, but also doesn’t seem to be quite as egregious a violation as a member of the Legislature’s leadership sending out a fundraising pitch to lobbyists on official state letterhead.
I wonder if Mock and other Democrats will hold Onstad to the same standard they held Mitzel to?
UPDATE: Rep. Onstad said this in response to a request for comment: “After I sent it out I realized my mistake but too late to retrieve from the postoffice. I am looking to make corrections to the letter and contacting individuals.”