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Brad Crabtree, Published November 03 2012

Letter: Forum misleads readers

In endorsing Randy Christmann for Public Service commissioner, Forum Communications disregarded its own editorial positions and misled its roughly 150,000 readers statewide by knowingly withholding important factual information. The Forum has consistently and correctly editorialized against the unethical practice of PSC commissioners accepting campaign contributions from companies and executives they regulate.

However, despite learning of Christmann’s financial disclosure report prior to publication of their endorsement, Forum Communications chose not to disclose that my opponent accepted an unprecedented $55,000 in political contributions from companies and executives that he would directly regulate on the PSC.

My opponent has received as much money from regulated interests in just four months as incumbent Commissioners Kevin Cramer and Brian Kalk jointly accepted for their PSC campaigns over four years. It’s not yet Election Day, and Christmann has embroiled himself in the same conflicts of interest that have landed Cramer and Kalk in federal court at North Dakota taxpayers’ expense. If elected, my opponent will begin his term legally vulnerable to challenges under federal and state law.

In endorsing my ethically compromised opponent, Forum Communications acknowledged that current Commissioners Cramer and Kalk may have broken North Dakota’s 1973 bribery law by accepting contributions from regulated interests. Yet, they intentionally dodge the same issue with Christmann, claiming that my campaign should have addressed my opponent’s actions, rather than sitting PSC commissioners.

The Forum pointedly ignores the fact that I pledged not to accept any contributions from interests with business before the PSC, voluntarily disclosed those contributions monthly and repeatedly invited Christmann to join me in my pledge – an invitation he refused.

The Forum also fails to acknowledge that my opponent used North Dakota’s lax election laws to avoid similar transparency by delaying release of his contributions until one week before the election – after tens of thousands of North Dakotans have already voted.

Forum Communications’ claim that I should have focused on my opponent, rather than on the actions of incumbent PSC commissioners, is dishonest. Forum editors know that Christmann refused three media invitations to public debate (which I accepted).

How can The Forum reasonably expect me to campaign against an invisible opponent who does not take the job of PSC commissioner seriously or respect North Dakota voters enough to accept debates and otherwise openly engage the public?

In contrast to Christmann’s campaign of personal attacks, I have offered voters constructive proposals for responsible development of our energy resources, saving consumers money on utility bills, protecting farmers from grain elevator bankruptcies, sustaining our lignite industry with clean coal technologies and ending financial conflicts of interest on the PSC.

Newspapers have a right to support the candidate of their choice. However, in endorsing my opponent, Forum Communications failed in its obligation to its readers by withholding critical information and by not presenting a full and honest context for their decision.

Crabtree is a candidate for North Dakota Public Service commissioner.