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Stenehjem campaign sending ads to public university student emails

GRAND FORKS -- Wayne Stenehjem's gubernatorial campaign is sending online advertisements using university student emails obtained by a consulting firm's open records request.

GRAND FORKS -- Wayne Stenehjem's gubernatorial campaign is sending online advertisements using university student emails obtained by a consulting firm's open records request.

One such email went to University of North Dakota student Michael Dulitz. It depicts Stenehjem and his running mate Nicole Poolman and includes a message about their track record of "championing the needs of our state's college students."

Dulitz was traveling Thursday afternoon but said in an email the advertisement was "particularly off-putting."

"I am used to seeing campaign ads on the news, on email, on Facebook and in just about every other venue, but to see one in my email, it was completely unsolicited and made me feel invaded," he said.

Campaign manager Nate Martindale said the practice is commonplace and ethical.

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"It's an opportunity to inform a large voting base," he said.

The emails were obtained by the Bismarck-based firm Odney Advertising in 2014, Martindale said. The company's records request for the emails of about 48,000 students at all North Dakota University System institutions made headlines, with then-Democratic-NPL Party Chairman Bob Valeu calling the request "absolutely inappropriate."

Odney President Pat Finken previously said marketing agencies routinely make such requests.

Martindale said the 2014 data was used instead of requesting up-to-date emails because "it's what we had." Emails were sent to UND, North Dakota State University and Minot State University.

"In terms of political emails, yes, I would say with legislative races with districts that have college campuses, it's a common practice," Martindale said.

UND and several other North Dakota colleges and universities are public, therefore, the emails are subject to open records requests, according to North Dakota Century Code.

"Is it ethical to follow the law? I would say it is," interim UND Vice President for University and Public Affairs Peter Johnson said.

UND emails used to be available in a directory that was discontinued roughly five years ago. Student emails are accessible online with a UND login and password while all employee emails are public.

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Johnson said he remembers the campus community receiving emails about ballot measures in past years, just not from candidates.

Martindale said students have the option to opt out of the campaign emails, but for Dulitz, that isn't enough.

"Student's should have the opportunity to opt out of having their UND email public, as they have no opportunity to opt out of having a UND email," Dulitz said. "While public records are important and a very much a 'Dakota Virtue,' privacy is of equal importance."

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