VIRGINIA — Pressure is increasing on St. Louis County to release emails between county commissioner and Republican 8th Congressional District candidate Pete Stauber and the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Five elected officials in the district wrote to the county this week asking it comply with an advisory opinion of the state Administration Department that emails between Stauber and the NRCC, found on Stauber’s county email, should be public data. Signing the letter were DFL State Reps. Jason Metsa of Virginia, Rob Ecklund of International Falls and Liz Olson of Duluth, St. Louis County Commissioner Tom Rukavina and Mountain Iron Mayor Gary Skalko.
“As stewards of St. Louis County property tax payers, it’s our job to protect our constituents from having to foot the bill for an avoidable lawsuit or lawsuits that St. Louis County will certainly face for refusal to honor state law and make Mr. Stauber’s emails public,” the letter reads.
The Minnesota DFL filed a lawsuit against the county Tuesday seeking a court order to make emails public. Administration Department opinions are not binding, but may hold weight in the court.
Still, the lawsuit and efforts by lawmakers are running on tight deadlines before the Nov. 6 election, prompting the DFL to request an expedited hearing. Stauber is leading the latest polls in one of the most watched seats in Congress during the midterm. He’s running against Democrat Joe Radinovich and Independent Ray “Skip” Sandman.
“The public has the right to know what is in the emails Pete Stauber sent from his taxpayer funded county email account while he was on county time,” said DFL Executive Director Corey Day in a news release announcing the lawsuit. “Transparency and accountability are vital in maintaining trust in government and in our public officials, and thus far, Pete Stauber has fallen far short on both counts.”
In a statement to Forum News Service, Stauber’s campaign dismissed the lawsuit as a political attack and a smear campaign. The county said it will respond through the courts.
“It’s not surprising Joe and his DFL friends are playing politics,” said spokesperson Caroline Tarwid, “but as we have all along, we leave these decisions up to the county, who already cleared Pete Stauber of any wrongdoing.”
In its lawsuit, the DFL claims the county is in violation of the state’s data practices act. The lawsuit followed last week’s advisory opinion by the Minnesota Department of Administration which said the emails are public and that St. Louis County acted improperly by refusing a request from the Minneapolis Star Tribune to release 15 emails involving the NRCC found in Stauber’s county email account earlier this year. Elected officials are prohibited by county policy from using county funds, equipment, supplies, employees, or facilities in support of their own campaigns.
Several other requests to see the emails have followed, but the county has maintained throughout that the emails between a commissioner and an individual are private.
Neither Stauber, nor the NRCC has shown any inclination to share the contents of the emails, and St. Louis County said it will not produce the emails without one or the other’s consent.
Forum News Service contributed to this report.