One of Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s favorite things is to challenge laws passed by other governmental bodies, especially the federal government (and now, it seems, local governments, too).
One of Kathleen Wrigley’s favorite things is to see her picture in the paper.
One of Odney Advertising’s favorite things is to collect nice commissions on ads placed on behalf of political candidates and causes.
They all did their favorite things this week. And they all broke the law, as far as I can tell.
Let’s start with the attorney general, who’s now running for governor of North Dakota. He’s got a big old campaign sign up on Ward Road in west Bismarck. Took a nice 4-foot-by-8-foot sheet of plywood and put his name and that of his running mate, Nicole Poolman, on it, and put it up beside the street on property that looks like it belongs to former Bismarck Mayor John Warford.
Only problem is, from what I can tell, the sign is in violation of Bismarck’s city ordinances. Specifically, Title 4-04-04, which says:
Code of Ordinances Title 4-04-04. Amendment to the Code, Political Campaign Signs: In order to balance the free speech rights of citizens regarding candidate choices or ballot measures to be decided at special, primary or general elections with the interests of the city in maintaining a safe and clean environment for its citizens, the commission adopts the following rules with respect to political campaign signs placed in residential areas: Political campaign signs in residential areas shall be limited to a total of 16 square feet exclusive of supports. Political campaign signs may not be placed on the public right-of-way or on any publically owned property…
Sixteen square feet. That would be 4 feet by 4 feet. Except Stenehjem’s sign is 4 feet by 8 feet — 32-square feet.
Now I don’t suppose the attorney general will go to the pokey for having an illegal sign, but if I read the law right, he certainly should have to take it down. It wouldn’t be fair to allow him to have a bigger sign than his opponents.
Then again, maybe the attorney general has the itch for a fight, like he gets when he sues the Environmental Protection Agency, or the U.S. Forest Service because he doesn’t like their laws. Maybe he’s going to take on the city of Bismarck and challenge their size limit on political signs.
Title 4-04-04, by the way, was enacted by the Bismarck City Commission in 2013, and signed into law by the fellow who was mayor that year — John Warford. The same John Warford in whose yard the sign is located, from what I can tell.
(Aside: Publically? Really? The city of Bismarck needs to hire a proofreader when they post new ordinances.)
Kathleen Wrigley (you’ve heard of her, right?) has a big old grin on her face in a full-page ad in North Dakota daily newspapers this past Sunday showing her presenting petition signatures to Secretary of State Al Jaeger to put a constitutional amendment called Marsy’s Law on the ballot this November.
There they are, she and Al, in a big picture in the full page ad, standing in the Secretary of State’s office, right in front of a big old North Dakota State Seal. In violation of North Dakota law. You see, it is illegal to put the State Seal in a political ad in North Dakota. Here’s a bit of Chapter 54-02 from the North Dakota Century Code:
CHAPTER 54-02 STATE EMBLEMS, SYMBOLS, AND AWARDS 54-02-01. Great seal – Permitted uses – Penalty for commercial use.
It is a class B misdemeanor for any person to: a. Place or cause to be placed the great seal, or any reproduction of the great seal, on any political badge, button, insignia, pamphlet, folder, display card, sign, poster, billboard, or on any other public advertisement, or to otherwise use the great seal for any political purpose, as defined in section 16.1-10-02.
KFGO news first reported this Monday afternoon, and they called Al Jaeger to see if the ad was in violation of the law, and he said it was. And that the Marsy’s Law sponsors must quit using the ad with the picture of the State Seal in it.
He also didn’t sound too happy about having his picture in the Marsy’s Law ad. Because they never asked his permission to do that.
So you probably won’t be seeing that ad any more.
As for Odney Advertising, well, this isn’t their first rodeo in the political arena. They’ve been building political ads for years, and if they indeed produced this ad for the Marsy’s Law folks, well, they probably won’t be collecting their commission on it. At least they wouldn’t if I was the client.
I know that the bosses at Odney know better, but maybe Shane Goettle, who works for Odney and is in charge, from what I can tell, of the Marsy’s Law campaign, is still a little green at this political business.
But you know, pretty much everyone involved in politics in North Dakota knows the law about using the State Seal in a political ad. The consequences for doing it are more than just pulling the ad. Because a violation of that section of the code, as it says above, is a Class B Misdemeanor, and there’s a penalty for committing a Class B Misdemeanor in North Dakota. According to Chapter 12.1-32-01 of the North Dakota Century Code:
Class B misdemeanor… a maximum penalty of 30 days’ imprisonment, a fine of $1,500, or both, may be imposed.
Oh, my. This is one somebody COULD go to the pokey for. I’m not sure if it would be the smiling face in the picture, or the folks who put the ad together, but someone is going to have to answer for this. Of course, that is, if the secretary of state and the attorney general decide to press charges. Yeah, right. I wonder how likely that is.
Bottom line here: The state’s top lawyer should know the law concerning campaign signs and should follow it. The wife of the president of the North Dakota Senate should know better than to put the State Seal in a political ad. And the state’s top political advertising agency should know better as well.
But it’s more fun ignoring the law and doing your favorite things, I guess.