Northern Minn. congressional candidate cleared by county following email report

DULUTH, Minn. -- First parking tickets, now voters in the 8th Congressional District in northeast Minnesota have an email controversy to consider. Republican candidate Pete Stauber used a government email address to communicate with a major party...

DULUTH, Minn. - First parking tickets, now voters in the 8th Congressional District in northeast Minnesota have an email controversy to consider.

Republican candidate Pete Stauber used a government email address to communicate with a major party group in Washington, D.C., a Star Tribune report alleged Thursday. The newspaper gained information from a public records request and found Stauber was involved in correspondence across 15 emails with the National Republican Congressional Committee.

"The email traffic would appear to be in violation of a St. Louis County policy, which states 'elected officials will not use St. Louis County equipment in support of their own campaigns for re-election, other candidates for public office, or political organizations,' " reported the Star Tribune.

Stauber and his campaign have refused to address the issue directly. The county said it will not take the issue any further, having already investigated it.

"We proactively reviewed the emails through the lens of our Code of Conduct for Elected Officials Policy and were satisfied that no investigation or further review was warranted," said St. Louis County spokeswoman Dana Kazel.

Stauber and Democrat Joe Radinovich are waging a close race in the 8th District, one that figures to be among the most expensive and closely scrutinized House races in the country come November's midterm elections.

The Independence Party's Ray Skip Sandman, of Duluth, is also campaigning in the race to fill open seat in the 8th District created by Rep. Rick Nolan's upcoming retirement. Stauber, of Hermantown, and Radinovich, of Crosby, won primaries in August to reach the ballot.

It is unknown if St. Louis County has conducted its own investigation into the Stauber emails. The county "declined to provide the e-mails, citing a Minnesota statute that makes correspondence between private individuals and elected officials private," wrote the Star Tribune.

In his defense, the Stauber campaign issued a brief statement Thursday.

"Pete continues to be laser-focused on visiting with Minnesotans in the 8th District and listening to their concerns," said Stauber campaign spokeswoman Caroline Tarwid, who termed the news of the emails, "desperate smears from the left."

Following the release of the report, the Stauber camp appeared to further ignore it when it sent out a news release responding to a President Donald Trump decision freeing up further exploration of mineral deposits in the Superior National Forest.

NRCC spokesperson Maddie Anderson could not be reached for comment. According to the Star Tribune, either Stauber or the NRCC could have released the emails. "Stauber declined to do so," the Star Tribune wrote.

The emails appear to have been dogging Stauber for some time. Kazel said the county received "several data requests for correspondence between Commissioner Stauber and individuals ..."

"St. Louis County takes its role seriously as a custodian of data, subject to the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act," Kazel wrote to the Duluth newspaper. "We have been diligent in our response to data requests."

The Duluth paper made its own public records request with St. Louis County in late 2017 - asking for the release of what it had heard were Stauber campaign emails sent from his county account. The county denied the request in January, with human resources director James Gottschald saying, "Given that the privacy rights of several individuals are at stake, the county has opted to take the safe course of not releasing any correspondence to or from Commissioner Stauber in which a natural person can be identified as either the recipient or the sender."

A county response to a differently worded request made in September 2017 by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee showed that there were 15 emails worth of correspondence "between individuals and Commissioner Stauber." The county's response to the DCCC was shared with the Duluth newspaper by a Democratic-Farmer-Labor activist on Thursday.

By midday Thursday, the Democrats had seized on the Star Tribune report.

"Pete Stauber isn't just national Republicans' hand-picked candidate, he's now their scandal-ridden responsibility," said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Rachel Irwin, who complained that Stauber campaigned on the taxpayers' dime. "Stauber has proven he's as corrupt as his party bosses in D.C."

Irwin predicted "a swift fall" for Stauber. But the Stauber email scandal was reminiscent of the parking ticket report aimed at Joe Radinovich in August, when a political action committee attempted to make hay of Radinovich's recent history with 30-plus parking tickets and moving violations, some of which went unpaid until after his August primary victory.

Radinovich cleared up his unpaid fines and later said, "I reject that they're a character issue." The issue appears to have died down since. Radinovich has declined so far to talk about Stauber's emails.

It's notable that 8th District voters resoundingly denied Hillary Clinton their support during the 2016 presidential race. She was outpointed by Donald Trump by 16 points in the 8th District. Throughout the campaign, Trump repeatedly condemned Clinton's own controversial history with emails - in her case using a private email server to send government transmissions.

At his rallies - including one joined on stage by Stauber in June in Duluth - Trump continues to embrace chants of "lock her up," referencing Hillary Clinton's conduct with her emails.