HometownSource.com: Legislative Auditor’s investigation says Secretary of State Mark Ritchie broke no laws

HOMETOWNSOURCE.COM

by T.W. Budig, ECM capitol reporter

A Legislative Auditor’s investigation of the alleged misuse of a citizen contact list by Secretary of State Mark Ritchie concluded that Ritchie broke no laws in supplying his election campaign with the data.

Ritchie has argued that the data was public information.

But the auditor’s report also concluded that Ritchie did not fulfill his legal obligation to make a full and quick response to the Auditor’s Office.

“We think it is a serious breach of responsibility for a public official not to fully and promptly respond to a request for information from the Office of the Legislative Auditor,” the report states.

Ritchie, who campaigned against former Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer in part on the platform that Kiffmeyer had politicized the Secretary of State’s Office, in a letter to the auditor respectfully disagreed with the conclusion.

Ritchie offers statement

“I am pleased with the Legislative Auditor’s final report that concludes that my office acted properly in fulfilling our mission and statuary responsibility to promote citizen participation in government,” said Ritchie in a written statement on Tuesday (Jan. 8).

The controversy over the use of the contact list originated with a complaint by two participants in a Secretary of State’s Office civic education program to the Legislative Auditor’s Office.

The two alleged that Ritchie’s use of the data gathered at the program was a misuse of state resources and an abuse of Ritchie’s power as chief elections officer.

In requesting information from Ritchie, the Legislative Auditor’s Office received two submissions.

A Nov. 20 e-mail from Ritchie contained important information not disclosed in the earlier letter, states the report.

Because of this, the auditor’s office concluded to take statements from Ritchie and several staff members under oath.

One item of concern was who provided the contact list to the Ritchie campaign.

Nov. 20 e-mail

The Legislative Auditor’s Office notes that Ritchie did not inform them that he personally, supplied his campaign with the data until Nov. 20 in the e-mail.

This troubled the auditors, because they had no indication in the first correspondence that additional information would be forthcoming.

Indeed, the opposite was indicated.

“In fact, we were told specifically that the November 9 letter contained ‘all of the information that is known by the Secretary of State’s office.'” states the report.

In his letter to the auditor, Ritchie argued that since the Secretary of State’s Office is separate from the campaign, it would be inappropriate for office staff to answer questions concerning his campaign.

Ritchie argued his Nov. 20 e-mail was no way inconsistent with the original correspondence.

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