Secretary of State admits sharing state roster with campaign

Mark Ritchie
Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie.
MPR Photo/Laura McCallum

(AP) - Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said it was a mistake for him to give his campaign a list of participants in a state-sponsored "civic engagement" program so they could be sent a newsletter asking for a political contribution.

The first-term Democrat admitted to the Star Tribune on Tuesday to turning over the list. His disclosure comes about a month after a pair of Republican operatives asked the state's Office of the Legislative Auditor to investigate whether Ritchie violated any rules.

Ritchie had previously told the newspaper that the list was public information, but that he did not authorize his campaign to use it.

The men questioned how their e-mail addresses wound up on a mailing list for a Ritchie electronic campaign newsletter that asked for donations. They suspected the campaign got their names from their participation in a nonpartisan civic engagement program run by the secretary of state's office.

"It's unethical. Now that Ritchie basically admitted lying, I don't know how we can't have an investigation."

Ritchie said he had personally provided a copy of the directory to his campaign and requested that those on the list get a copy of his campaign's civic engagement newsletter. It has been distributed to about 12,000 individuals and groups whom he described as active in civic life in the state.

He said his campaign maintains a donor and potential contributor list that is separate from the newsletter list.

Before you keep reading ...

MPR News is made by Members. Gifts from individuals fuel the programs that you and your neighbors rely on. Donate today to power news, analysis, and community conversations for all.

The newsletter "is distributed as an information source on civic engagement in Minnesota, not a vehicle for solicitation," Ritchie said.

But the Oct. 22 newsletter invites recipients to an upcoming fundraiser and links to Ritchie's campaign Web site for anyone wishing to donate to "help me cover my campaign related expenses for this year."

Ritchie, who ran on a platform of keeping state election policy and politics separate, said he is taking steps to ensure that people can easily remove their names from the newsletter mailing list and that future editions will contain only news, not solicitations.

"The campaign should have checked with the groups and individuals who listed themselves in this public directory to make sure they wanted to receive my civic engagement newsletter," Ritchie said.

Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles said Tuesday that his office has accumulated a significant amount of information regarding the complaint against Ritchie and analyzing the case. He didn't say when his probe would be completed.

House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, said he believes the House Government Operatons Committee on reform, technology and elections should investigate the matter.

"It's unethical," Seifert told the Independent of Marshall on Wednesday, adding, "this guy got caught in a lie. The culture of corruption looks pretty bad.

"Now that Ritchie basically admitted lying, I don't know how we can't have an investigation," Seifert said.

The ease of transfer of information between government offices and campaigns has become a vexing issue for politicians.

"There must be a wall between constituent information compiled at public expense while representing the public and the transfer of that information for use in campaigns," said Steven Clift, a digital democracy expert based in Minneapolis. "Ideally, secondary use would be prohibited. Or, if an incumbent can use it, then everyone should be able to access it, including challengers."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)