ND legislative leader asks for donations on official state letterhead


By Rob Port | Watchdog.org North Dakota Bureau

FUNDRAISING PITCH: North Dakota House Minority Leader Kenton Onstad, a Democrat from District 4, sent this fundraising letter printed on state letterhead to a group of lobbyists.

BISMARCK, N.D. — House Minority Leader Kenton Onstad, a Democrat representing District 4, raised eyebrows when he sent out a fundraising letter to lobbyists on official state letterhead bearing the state seal.

That’s because it’s against North Dakota law to use public resources or the state seal for political purposes. The former is considered a “corrupt practice” under Chapter 16.1-10 of the North Dakota Century Code, and the latter is a class B misdemeanor under Chapter 54-02 , punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to 30 days in jail.

In the letter, provided to Watchdog.org by a registered lobbyist on condition of anonymity, Onstad requests “financial assistance to get highly qualified candidates elected to the North Dakota House of Representatives.”

“Can I count on you and your organization?” he asks.

Contacted about the letter, Onstad confirmed writing it and admitted it was a mistake.

“After I sent it out I realized my mistake, but too late to retrieve from the post office,” he said in response to an email inquiry. “I am looking to make corrections to the letter and contacting individuals.”

Onstad didn’t specify what corrections he would make.

“The Democratic leader of the House should know better, especially after his his assistant rushed to condemn Republicans for an even lesser offense just a short while ago,” NDGOP Vice Chairman Jim Poolman said in response to the situation, referencing a 2012 incident where Democrats complained about the use of a state seal by Republican legislative candidate John Mitzel.

The North Dakota Democratic Non-Partisan League filed a complaint over Mitzel’s use of the seal in a campaign flyer. Mitzel said the use of the seal was the result of a mix up with his graphic designer.

“It is my understanding that these matters have been forwarded to the Grand Forks County state’s attorney for investigation and further action,” Assistant Minority Leader Corey Mock, a Democrat representing District 42, told the Huffington Post in 2012 while responding to Mitzel’s use of the seal. “Unfortunately, most states’ 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.”

“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.

Asked about Onstad’s use of the state seal and legislative letterhead for fundraising, Mock struck a more moderate tone.

“I’m not aware of a complaint being filed regarding the letter, but I do know that Rep. Onstad has acknowledged his mistake and has apologized for it,” Mock told Watchdog. “Our laws should be applied and enforced equally and consistently. A precedent of inaction has been set over the years — all the more reason why an ethics and oversight commission is needed in North Dakota.”

Mock sponsored legislation to create an ethics committee in 2013, but it was defeated.

You can reach Rob Port at rport@watchdog.org