ASK YOUR GOVERNMENT: Are state-issued e-mail addresses OK to use for a political campaign?
Dear readers, The Forum received this from a Rugby, N.D., reader, who also contacted the North Dakota Attorney General's Office: Q. I was reviewing the website Project Vote Smart for candidate profiles and discovered several candidates are using ...
The Forum received this from a Rugby, N.D., reader, who also contacted the North Dakota Attorney General's Office:
Q. I was reviewing the website Project Vote Smart for candidate profiles and discovered several candidates are using their official state-issued e-mail addresses as "campaign" e-mail addresses.
I believe that using this state-supplied service for campaign purposes clearly violates NDCC 16.1-10-01(3) and would like to know how to have an investigation started into the illegal use of this service for campaign purposes by any candidates.
A. Here's what Liz Brocker of the Attorney General's Office said:
"You may wish to check with the Project Vote Smart organization to see whether they obtained this contact information directly from the candidate or simply obtained it without contacting the candidates by culling it from publicly-available sources.
"If, after hearing from Project Vote Smart, you still believe there is a violation of the law, you can report your concerns to the local law enforcement agency having jurisdiction."
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said he visited with one of the candidates questioned by the reader and said the candidate never responded to Project Vote Smart.
"There's not much any of us can do when someone else publishes your state e-mail, and it's available publicly," Stenehjem said.
Here's what Secretary of State Al Jaeger said about the matter:
"When a candidate files for office, they file an Affidavit of Candidacy. On that form, they are given the opportunity to provide an "e-mail address of candidate (if applicable)."
"The e-mail address provided is then placed on the candidate list, which can be viewed at https://vip.sos.nd .
gov/CandidateList.aspx . If you select Legislative from the Jurisdiction list and then "all" and hit search, you will find the entire list of legislative candidates where the provided e-mail address can be found. We do not question what is provided for an e-mail address.
"Because of your question, I checked the legislative candidate list and found 13 legislators who had listed an @nd.gov e-mail address. There were three Senators and 10 House members. There were 11 Republicans and two Democrats.
"In checking the entire candidate list, I did find one Democrat statewide candidate who also provided an @nd.gov address on the Affidavit of Candidacy. There were four candidates for district judge that listed either an @nd.gov address or a @nd
"I also found many county officials that listed an @nd.gov address. The judge candidates and county candidates are nonpartisan positions.
"According to N.D.C.C. § 54-03-26, which was adopted by the 1997 session, a legislator can use their computer for personal use upon payment of a fee, which I understand is currently set at $9 per month.
"The one caveat in 54-03-26 is that such use cannot be in violation of 16.1-10-12, which states that state property cannot be used for a political purpose, which means any activity undertaken in support of or in opposition to the election or nomination of a candidate.
"Whether the @nd.gov
e-mail address listed by the legislators or other candidates is being used for this purpose, we do not know. Keep in mind, the @nd.gov e-mail addresses might just be listed for contact purposes.
"The key is whether the activity with that listed @nd.gov address is being used in support of or in opposition to the election or nomination of a candidate. If it would be determined that it was a violation, the person would be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.
"Since this would be considered a criminal matter, the Secretary of State's office has no authority to investigate or prosecute. That would be a decision made by a county state's attorney.
"My guess is that the listing of these e-mail addresses by many of the candidates was a misunderstanding of what was being asked or the purpose it was requested and that they were only providing a contact e-mail address for the filing of the report.
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