Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) might have ended her chances at re-election, which were already becoming dim as we approach Election Day. She’s trailing her Republican opponent, Rep. Kevin Cramer, by nearly double-digits. During the vicious battle over the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, Cramer made some controversial remarks on the Hill. Heitkamp saw an opening for an attack, and she fumbled—badly. Her campaign published a newspaper ad, in which an open letter listed survivors of sexual assault, but scores of these women did not authorize their names to be used—and some of the women named weren’t sexually assaulted (via AP):
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp apologized Tuesday for misidentifying victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse and rape who were listed in a recent North Dakota newspaper ad aimed at her opponent.
The Democrat, who is facing a tough race for re-election, said in a statement that she had recently learned that several of the women named in the ad either hadn’t authorized it or are not survivors of abuse.
“This was incompetent. It was wrong. It should have never happened,” Heitkamp told Rob Port, a conservative blogger and frequent Heitkamp critic on his radio talk show Tuesday. “It was a very flagrant error of the campaign and I own it.”
The flap over the newspaper ad comes at a sensitive time for Heitkamp, who has been trying to explain to voters why she opposed confirming Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The vote has emboldened Republican challenger Kevin Cramer in his effort to label the incumbent as too liberal for the conservative state.
Heitkamp, who was clearly emotional on the talk show, apologized several times for the ad, which she said she hadn’t seen before publication.
The ad that ran Sunday in several North Dakota newspapers was an open letter to Cramer, criticizing comments he made on Kavanaugh’s confirmation . It was signed by more than 125 people, though some just listed their initials.
Heitkamp has apologized, even running another ad, but as Rob Port noted, this might have run aground of FEC regulations. Port also runs SayAnything, a North Dakota-based blog, where he noted the discrepancies in the ad concerning who funded it. You all know the little citations at the end: “this ad was paid for by candidate X.” All communications paid for by a political committee need to be disclosed. That doesn’t appear to have happened in this case:
.@HeidiHeitkamp running this newspaper ad apologizing for ad outing sexual assault survivors (pic from the @MinotDailyNews). Meanwhile, some of those outed women say the Senator hadn't spoken to them yet. #NDSEN #ndpol pic.twitter.com/vUlK5DeNh1— Rob Port (@robport) October 18, 2018
Something which is supposed to be in all communications paid for by a political committee is a disclosure, like this one from the original ad which is being apologized for:
Here’s what the FEC has to say about disclaimers in any communication paid for by a political committee.
…it doesn’t matter if the ad doesn’t contain an explicitly political message. If it was paid for by the committee, it must have a disclaimer. The ad above, as it appeared in the Minot Daily News, doesn’t have that disclaimer.
Was it paid for by the campaign committee? Or did Senator Heitkamp pay for the ad out of her own pocket? The latter might mean that the FEC’s disclosure requirement doesn’t apply.
I sent an email to Heitkamp campaign spokeswoman Julia Krieger this morning seeking information, but so far she isn’t responding to me. I guess, despite Senator Heitkamp responding to one of my interview requests for the first time in six years earlier this week, the Heitkamp campaign is back to ignoring me.
I got in touch with the folks at the Minot Daily, and they said the ad was paid for by the campaign.
“It was paid for by the campaign committee and it came to us through NDNA,” publisher Dan McDonald told me this morning, referring to the North Dakota Newspaper Association.
It would seem this apology ad, which has already been criticized for being tiny compared to the full-page size of the original ad being apologized for, also runs afoul of FEC rules.
Lexi Zhorela was one of the women named—and she has yet to be contacted by the North Dakota Democrat. She was going to vote for Heitkamp. That’s not happening now. Some 22 other women have formed a group to mull whether to take legal action against Heitkamp. The aide who gathered the materials for the ad has been fired. On CNN, Politico’s Rachael Bade and AP’s Catherine Lucey both acknowledged that this was a major blunder by the Heitkamp crew and that there isn’t much she can do to fix it with Election Day so close. Bade added that Heitkamp will pay for stepping on this rake.