Ad agency’s political involvement with public employees raises “serious questions”

Ad agency’s political involvement with public employees raises “serious questions”

(BISMARCK, ND) – Citing “serious questions” that a North Dakota advertising agency is pressuring state employees to improperly engage in political activities, North Dakota Democratic-NPL legislative leaders Senator Mac Schneider (Grand Forks) and Representative Kenton Onstad (Parshall) today made an open records request for correspondence from Odney Advertising to several key state government officials. The request comes on the heels of media reports that Odney Advertising had surreptitiously sent political talking points to state employees at their personal email addresses on the topic of Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger’s treatment for addiction.

“We were concerned to learn that Odney Advertising, which earns tens of millions of dollars in state contracts while simultaneously working to elect Republican officeholders, is sending political talking points to state employees to use in the performance of their public duties,” the Dem-NPL leaders said. “This raises serious questions as to whether a politically connected advertising firm with a financial interest in maintaining one-party control of state government is pressuring public employees to use their taxpayer-funded time and services to support the Tax Commissioner’s election bid in a manner that could potentially violate the state’s Corrupt Practices Act. We are moving forward with our open records requests with the goal of answering these questions.”

The North Dakota Corrupt Practices Act, which is codified in chapter 16.1-10 of the Century Code, prohibits an individual from using “state services or property” for a political purpose, including activities undertaken in support of a candidate for public office. Recent media reports indicate that former Tax Commissioner Corey Fong, who now works for Odney Advertising, sent political talking points to Deputy Tax Commissioner Joe Morrissette and members of the Governor’s office after news broke that Rauschenberger would seek addiction treatment. The political document was sent to the individuals’ personal email addresses, apparently in hopes of evading discovery as part of an open records request.

“At a time when the Tax Department is leaderless, a partisan advertising firm should not be bearing down on state employees to do political damage control,” said Senator Schneider. “North Dakota’s state employees work for all of us. They are professionals. They should not be put in a position where they’re made to feel like they must improperly use their public positions for partisan gain by an entity with political connections up and down the capitol tower.”

As reported by the Fargo Forum, Odney Advertising received $23.8 million from state contracts in the 2009-2011 biennium and gained almost $6 million during the current biennium. The advertising firm has also long performed campaign consulting for numerous Republican statewide officeholders, including Rauschenberger.

So far this election year, Odney Advertising is producing and buying political advertisements for Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, and Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak. They have produced commercials and reserved time for Rauschenberger but those spots have been delayed.

Odney Advertising has also operated a super PAC called the “Brighter Future Fund,” that works on behalf of Republican candidates. The Washington Examiner, a conservative newspaper, ran a story in February raising serious questions about Odney Advertising’s work with that fund and on behalf of the North Dakota Republican Party.

Onstad added Odney Advertising’s recent actions raise a broader issue of whether Odney Advertising may have improperly used funds from state contracts for political purposes.

“To guard against even the appearance of impropriety, there should be an audit of the state contracts awarded to Odney Advertising since 2000,” said Onstad. “State government does not exist for the exclusive benefit of any one individual or company. The taxpayers of North Dakota are entitled to accountability and transparency. They deserve to know how their tax dollars have been spent and the extent of the relationship between state officials and private interests. It is on their behalf that we have submitted these requests.” (END)


Open Records Request from Senator Schneider and Representative Onstad


To Whom It May Concern:

Please take this correspondence as an open records request for all emails from January 1, 2014 to the present between any officer, employee, or agent of Odney Advertising and the following individuals: Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger, Deputy Tax Commissioner Joe Morrissette, all other employees of the Tax Department, and all employees of the Governor’s office. To be clear, this request includes not only correspondence involving these individuals’ state email accounts (i.e., but also any non-public email accounts utilized by these individuals.

Thank you for your cooperation. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns regarding this request.


Mac Schneider Kenton Onstad

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