Eighteen North Dakota Legislative Candidates Are Using Government Emails For Their Campaigns

Fargo City Commission candidate John Strand (full disclosure: John and I are friendly and have appeared on television together in the past) is now under police investigation for the “crime” of using a digital projector to cast a campaign message on a city water tower.

It’s a pretty innovative idea (I got a laugh when I heard about it), but it’s earned Strand a police investigation and, potentially, the loss of his candidacy.

Lt. Joel Vettel said someone complained to police on Friday about John Strand projecting his blue “I Stand with Strand” campaign logo on the side of a city water tower near the 400 block of north Broadway last month.

Vettel declined to say who filed the complaint, citing an open investigation, but said the police report could be in front of Cass County State’s Attorney Birch Burdick for possible charges by the week’s end.

Burdick has said Strand’s projection appears to violate state law, which prevents the use of public property for the purposes of political campaigning. Those found guilty of such an offense could be stripped of their government job or candidacy in a public election.

This seems like a ticky-tacky sort of thing, and if Burdick prosecutes it’ll be a bit hypocritical.

Back in 2010 I reported the use of a state government email address by Merle Boucher’s campaign (Boucher ,a Democrat, was running for Agriculture Commissioner against Republicna Doug Goehring). Burdick investigated, and ultimately did nothing about the infraction (the Secretary of State’s office had an election guide posted at the time which described the use of state email addresses for partisan campaigns to be verboten).

What’s funny is that you can go to the Secretary of State website today and find numerous candidates for the Legislature who have registered their campaigns using government email addresses.

Among them are Democrat Rep. Lois Delmore, the incumbent candidate in District 43, who is using her legislative email for her campaign and Scott Brand, a Democrat challenger for the state House in District 13 who is using his University of North Dakota email. Marvin Nelson, an incumbent House member in District 9, is also using his legislative email for his campaign.

There are also several Republicans guilty of the same thing, including Rep. Patrick Hattlestad, the incumbent tin District1, and Dennis Johnson, a House incumbent in District 15.

By my count, there are 18 candidates for the Legislature who are using government emails. None of the statewide candidates are using government emails for their campaigns.

The state’s election laws are pretty clear on this: “No person may 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.”

So, if we’re going to investigate the use of a water tower for a campaign message, why not investigate these cases too?

Update: A former legislator emails:

Legislators have an option to pay a monthly fee to use their computers including e-mail for private purposes, just because of the blurry area like this.  Once you’re in, people will contact you for other than govt business because the address is so readily available.  So if the 18 are paying their fee like they are supposed to there is no violation of anything, they are paying for it.

I wasn’t aware that legislators could do this, but there you go.

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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