November 21, 2007

Minnesota Official Lied About List

Mark Ritchie won election as Minnesota Secretary of State on a promise to "depoliticize" the office after beating the incumbent, Mary Kiffmeyer. Ritchie said that the Republican incumbent ran the office in "a partisan and unprofessional manner for the past eight years". It therefore surprised Minnesotans when people who do business with Ritchie's office began receiving e-mail soliciting donations for his political campaign shortly after his election. Ritchie denied giving the e-mail addresses to his campaign, but he has now changed his story:

Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie now says that he personally gave his campaign a list of participants in a state-sponsored "civic engagement" program so it could send them a campaign newsletter that asked for a political contribution.

Ritchie, a DFLer, was elected on a platform of de-politicizing the office, which supervises elections. He has been under fire since two Republican activists who attended the office's publicly funded event filed a complaint over having their e-mail addresses turned over to Ritchie's political operation.

Previously, Ritchie had denied knowing how the campaign got the list. He now insists that it solicited contributions only to pay for the newsletter itself. But its text invites recipients to an upcoming campaign fundraiser. ...

The Oct. 22 newsletter, however, invites recipients to an upcoming fundraiser and links to Ritchie's campaign website for anyone wishing to donate to "help me cover my campaign related expenses for this year."

Ritchie can't spin his way out of this conundrum. Earlier, he insisted that he had no idea how his campaign got the list of e-mail addresses of those who do business with his office. Now he admits that he personally provided that list to the campaign. That goes beyond "my staff did this without my knowledge," or any other bureaucratic nonsense.

In other words, Ritchie lied. Badly.

This isn't any technicality, either. All political parties have to deal with the Secretary of State, and they need to know that their business will be conducted professionally. Ritchie's little "newsletter" informed them that he'd be happy to help, and oh by the way, it would simply be peachy if you dropped a few dollars into the campaign fund. It looks a lot like corruption, if not a mild form of extortion.

This is the professionalism that Ritchie promised Minnesota? This is the non-partisanship that he said would be an improvement on Kiffmeyer? Mary Kiffmeyer never "asked" for political donations from people doing business with her office -- and she didn't tell lies to cover up wrongdoing, either. As I recall, she had no need.

The Minnesota state legislature should investigate its options with Ritchie. Perhaps the voters here could also look into their options. Could a recall election fulfill Ritchie's promise and raise the level of honesty and professionalism in the office of Secretary of State?

UPDATE: Gary Gross has more on this story, as does my NARN colleague Michael Brodkorb.


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