Sen. Heitkamp Makes Her Massive #MeToo Mistake Even Worse With Possible FEC Violation

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

In a stunningly egregious political error this week, Democrat Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota published a full-page ad in every major newspaper across the state Monday that took the form of an open letter telling her opponent Kevin Cramer that he is "wrong" about the #MeToo movement that was signed by scores of women the letter describes as "survivors of domestic abuse, sexual assault, or rape." But some of the names listed as signees say they never agreed to have their names publicly outed and others say they are not even "survivors."

Amid reports that some of the women now fear retaliation from their abusers and some are taking legal action against Heitkamp for publicly outing them without their permission or knowledge, the embattled senator ran a brief apology in the Minot Daily News that may come back to haunt her.

In a piece for the Say Anything Blog, Rob Port explains why that ad might prove to be an additional problem for the senator: it fails to provide the FEC-required disclaimer listing the ad as paid for by the Heitkamp campaign.

Here's a close-up of the ad:

The FEC requires all campaign-related public communications to include a disclaimer telling the audience that it was paid for by the campaign (see full requirements below).

Port reached out the Minot Daily News to see if the ad was indeed paid for by the Heitkamp campaign; the paper said yes. "It was paid for by the campaign committee and it came to us through NDNA [North Dakota Newspaper Association]," Dan McDonald, the paper's publisher, told Port Friday.

"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," writes Port.

Here's the text of the FEC's disclaimer requirements:

Disclaimers

Any public communication made by a political committee — including communications that do not expressly advocate the election or defeat of a clearly identified federal candidate or solicit a contribution — must display a disclaimer.

As explained on this page, disclaimers must also appear on political committees’ Internet websites, and in certain email communications. Moreover, all public communications that expressly advocate the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate, electioneering communications, and all public communications that solicit any contribution require a disclaimer, regardless of who has paid for them.

Public communications include electioneering communications and any other form of general public political advertisement, including communications made using the following media:

  • Broadcast, cable or satellite
  • Newspaper or magazine
  • Outdoor advertising facility
  • Mass mailing (more than 500 substantially similar mailings within 30 days)
  • Phone bank (more than 500 substantially similar calls within 30 days)
  • Communications placed for a fee on another person’s website

The following communications are not considered to be public communications, but still require a disclaimer:

  • Electronic mail: More than 500 substantially similar communications sent by a political committee
  • Websites of political committees

When a disclaimer isn’t required

A disclaimer is not required when:

  • It cannot be conveniently printed (for example, pens, bumper stickers, campaign pins, campaign buttons and similar small items);
  • Its display is not practicable (for example, wearing apparel, water towers and skywriting); or
  • The item is of minimal value, does not contain a political message and is used for administrative purposes (for example, checks and receipts)

Related: Sex Assault Victim Named In Heitkamp Ad Says She Now Fears For Her Safety

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