DULUTH — Despite a state opinion suggesting otherwise, St. Louis County said Wednesday, Oct. 17, it will not release the contents of campaign correspondence found in Pete Stauber’s county email account.
Citing state statute, the county denied on Wednesday a new round of public records requests asking to see Stauber’s email correspondence with the National Republican Congressional Committee, a large Washington, D.C.-based political action group.
The county continues to argue that the correspondence is between Stauber and an individual.
“Emails between an elected official and an individual are private data,” County Administrator Kevin Gray said in a news release on Wednesday. “Therefore, the requested emails will not be released without the consent of one of the parties.”
The Stauber campaign and NRCC have ignored requests to release the contents of the emails. A public records request to the county by the Minneapolis Star Tribune revealed on Sept. 15 emails between Stauber and the NRCC.
Stauber, a St. Louis County commissioner and retired Duluth police officer, is running for the open seat in the 8th Congressional District against Democrat Joe Radinovich and Independence Party candidate Ray “Skip” Sandman.
While not binding, opinions such as the one given by the Department of Administration on Tuesday are typically given weight in court. It is not yet known what steps the Star Tribune will take next to unseal the contents of the Stauber emails.
“We are surprised by the statement from St Louis County and are considering all our options,” Star Tribune Media Co. general counsel Randy M. Lebedoff said.
Stauber’s use of county email to conduct campaign business has been one of the big issues in a race he’s seemingly taken ahold of. Earlier this week, Stauber led Radinovich in a New York Times poll, 49 percent to 34 percent, with 13 percent of more than 500 respondents saying they were undecided.
On Tuesday, the Minnesota Department of Administration said Stauber’s emails were public and that St. Louis County erred by not providing the contents as part of the Star Tribune records request. The state office argued that a person working for an organization was serving as an agent and not an individual.
“Correspondence between elected officials and organizations is not meant to be classified as private,” the Minnesota Department of Administration said.
The county on Wednesday cited Minn. Stat. 13.601, Subd. 2, which says, “Correspondence between individuals and elected officials is private data on individuals.”
“Our highest priority has always been and continues to be to follow the law,” Gray said. “The non-binding Advisory Opinion from the Department of Administration is not consistent with the clear and unambiguous language of the statute.”
Elected officials are prohibited by county policy from using county funds, equipment, supplies, employees, or facilities in support of their own campaigns.
The county has previously said that it had reviewed the 15 emails brought to light by the Star Tribune and was “satisfied that no investigation or further review was warranted.”
Stauber last addressed the emails at an 8th District forum in Duluth in September.
“The county had the responsibility to look into the emails; they did so; they determined there was no wrongdoing and cleared the matter,” Stauber said.
The midterm election is Nov. 6.