In the eyes of this political observer, it’s been a pretty quiet election year in North Dakota so far. The House race between incumbent Republican Kevin Cramer and Democrat challenger George Sinner has been a snoozer so far. Despite indications that it would be a competitive race at the onset the match between Republican incumbent Doug Goehring and Democrat challenger Ryan Taylor for Agriculture Commissioner has largely flown under the radar.
The Tax Commissioner race might get more interesting when Ryan Rauschenberger – currently on a leave of absence to seek treatment for alcohol addiction – returns to the campaign trail, but right now there seems to be a bit of a vacuum.
So Democrats are trying to fill that vacuum, and their target is…a Republican advertising firm?
The liberals were crowing when Odney advertising sent talking points to state employees after SayAnythingBlog.com broke the story about Rauschenberger’s drinking problems. Odney is handling Rauschenberger’s campaign, so it’s not surprising that the firm would try to shape the messaging around their client.
According to Democrats, this was some dastardly act of corruption. Now, apparently, they’ve got evidence of new misdeeds by Odney. Apparently the marketing firm is – gasp! – trying to market stuff to college kids using perfectly legal and widely-practiced methods.
From a press release sent out by Democrats today:
(BISMARCK, ND – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – SEPTEMBER 25, 2014) – Bob Valeu, Chairman of the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party, announced today that the party sent a letter to Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem asking him to issue a “cease and desist” order prohibiting Odney Advertising from accessing the confidential information of 48,000 North Dakota college and university students.
The request is in response to an email sent by Odney Advertising President Pat Finken to NDUS officials on or about September 6, asking officials to provide the names, addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers for all students attending NDUS institutions.
Odney Advertising is the political consulting agency for the North Dakota Republican Party. According to media reports, Odney Advertising received $23.8 million from state contracts in the 2009-11 biennium and has gained almost $6 million in state contracts during this current budget cycle (Fargo Forum, 9/13/14). There are several questions about whether Odney Advertising may be improperly using funds from state contracts for political purposes.
Valeu stated: “This is another example of the blurred lines between state government, the North Dakota Republican Party, and Odney Advertising. Republicans, through Odney Advertising, think that the North Dakota University System should be their private data farm.
I asked Finken for a response to these allegations.
“These attacks by the Democrats are getting silly,” he told me via email. “The request we made was for student contact information. That information is not confidential and is routinely released to marketing companies and directory services. I made the request to the University System who forwarded the request to the individual schools. Each school has its own policies as to what can be released. There are clear procedures and policies in place and we have played by all the rules. To suggest anything other than that is untrue and dishonest.”
Finken has a point. In fact, the North Dakota University System has a well-established rule about what sort of information may be released in student directories. It is SBHE policy 1912.2 and it lists the student information universities may release which includes:
- Name (all names on record)
- Address (all addresses on record)
- E-mail address (all electronic addresses on record
- Phone number (all phone numbers on record)
- Height, weight and photos of athletic team members
- Date of birth
- Place of birth
- Major field of study (all declared majors)
- Minor field of study (all declared minors)
- Class level
- Dates of attendance
- Enrollment status
- Names of previous institutions attended
- Participation in officially recognized activities and sports
- Honors/awards received
- Degree earned (all degrees earned)
- Date degree earned (dates of all degrees earned)
- Photographic, video or electronic images of students taken and maintained by the institution.
I asked NDUS spokesman Linda Donlin, and she said all requests sent to the university system for student information are sent to the campuses. The linked policy above gives each campus discretion to establish their own policies about releasing this information, and also allows that students can opt out of their information being public.
So, basically, what Finken did was make a public request for public information that plenty of other organizations – both public and private – request all the time. Which is a point Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem made to Valeu in a letter responding to his request (see below).
Stenehjem notes that this student information if public, and that it is routinely requested.
Granted, it can be annoying that our emails and addresses get shared with marketing companies, but that’s an issue much larger than Democrats and their attempts to manufacture a political issue.
Finken says he suspects Democrats are trying to invent issues to attack in a state where one poll after another has shown a high level of citizen satisfaction with the status quo.
“I suspect that the Democrats know they can’t win on the issues,” Finken told me. “In fact, this latest attack smells of desperation. The people of North Dakota are pretty happy with what is happening in our state, so the Democrats are trying to change the narrative in order to distract voters from the real issues.”