What in the World is Going on in District 47?

An unusual situation is unfolding in Bismarck’s legislative district 47. Candidates have filed police reports against each other over political campaign claims. The whole scenario leaves me scratching my head. It also highlights a potential law change needed in the 2019 legislative session.

Let’s recap what is going on. On May 29th, Republican Representative George Keiser filed a police report against his Republican primary challenger Duane Sand. The report “alleged a flier sent from Sand’s Bismarck headquarters violated state law by misstating a vote he cast years ago” according to the Associated Press. Apparently, one of Sand’s fliers had an error on Keiser’s voting record. So, Keiser called the police. Days later, Sand ran an ad in the Bismarck Tribune acknowledging his campaign had made an error.

Keiser insinuated this was the only remedy before him to correct the claim. I disagree. This typically would be handled by the campaign issuing a hard-hitting rebuttal setting the record straight. That would perhaps cost a little campaign money. Instead, Keiser went the route of using taxpayer money in the form of law enforcement.

Yesterday, Duane Sand filed a complaint of his own. He is accusing Keiser and others of violating the same law. The police report included claims against George Keiser, Odney Advertising, Bob Christman, chairman of District 47 Republicans, and Dave Peske, District 47 Republicans campaign chairman according to Amy Dalrymple of the Bismarck Tribune. Sand appears to be casting a wide net.

I think it is an interesting side note that Odney Advertising was included in Sand’s complaint. Recently, the Washington Post reported that “N.D. Republican’s Senate Campaign ‘fact-checking’ website promotes false claim on CBO estimates.” The disclaimer on that site reads, “2018 Kevin Cramer for U.S. Senate designed and developed by Odney.” In this example, who exactly made the “false claim” on the website, Odney simply because they developed the page or would it be the Cramer campaign because they likely produced the content? I personally think it would be the latter. Remember, the President of Odney, Pat Finken, is Cramer’s campaign manager. To be clear, I am not claiming anything unlawful to have happened. I point to this example to show how gray the subject of campaign claims can be. Websites like the one used by the Cramer campaign have become common in modern politics. Regardless, there are simple ways to correct the record in political races.

I also highlight the Post article in this instance because it shows one of the “remedies” that is used in politics. Independent reporting of the facts. Another avenue for correcting “false claims” is through campaign materials. A police report is wholly unnecessary. Yet, that is the route district 47 candidates are undertaking in their dispute. Let’s hope it doesn’t set a precedent.

Imagine for a moment political candidates filing police reports every time a group or opposing candidate issued an erroneous statement or claim. How much of your tax money would be spent on these filings every election year? Of course, we all want truth in politics and we should demand it. Those that make false claims should be publicly corrected. I’m just not there in using tax dollars to do so. The Legislature should consider critiquing or better defining this area of the law in 2019.

Tyler Axness