In the Forum editorial “Tested experience for PSC,” which was run in print and online versions of the Fargo Forum, Grand Forks Herald, Jamestown Sun, and Dickinson Press on October 30, reaching a statewide audience of approximately 150,000, Forum Communications knowingly withheld factual information from the public regarding unethical campaign contributions accepted by its endorsed candidate for PSC, Randy Christmann.
According to the editorial,
“Brad Crabtree seems to be running against North Dakota Public Service commissioners who are not on the ballot, rather than state Sen. Randy Christmann, the Republican-endorsed candidate. Crabtree, who is making his second run for the Public Service Commission, has been trying to make the case that sitting commissioners broke the law by accepting campaign contributions from interests with matters before the commission. While that allegation might or might not prove to be true, Christmann is Crabtree’s opponent, and the race should be about him.”
Forum Communications has firmly and consistently editorialized against the practice of PSC commissioners accepting campaign contributions from interests they regulate. Moreover, Forum editors Matt Von Pinnon and Jack Zaleski were notified directly that Randy Christmann had, in fact, accepted more than $50,000 in campaign contributions from interests regulated by the PSC—at least twelve hours before the editorial went to print. Thus, Forum Communications willfully disavowed long-standing editorial positions and knowingly endorsed a candidate that, if elected, could be criminally liable for a Class C felony bribery offense under North Dakota law and in likely violation of the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act as well.
Rather than incorporate this crucial information into the editorial board decision regarding the PSC endorsement, Forum Communications misled the public by presenting the campaign contribution issue as a misguided distraction instigated by the Crabtree campaign. This is journalistic malpractice with far reaching consequences in the final days leading up to the election of North Dakota’s next Public Service Commissioner. With billions of dollars’ worth of projects and critical decisions that will come before the PSC as a result of our energy boom, voters have a right to a truthful representation of the issues.
In addition, Forum Communications’ made the disingenuous claim that Crabtree’s campaign should have focused on his opponent, rather than on the unethical actions of sitting PSC Commissioners Kevin Cramer and Randy Christmann. Yet, Forum Communications refused to acknowledge that Christmann refused three media invitations to public debate (which Crabtree accepted), did not hold one press conference on any of the many important issues facing the PSC, hid behind $25,000 in corporate-funded, and likely illegal, attack ads on Crabtree, and purposely withheld public disclosure of his contributions until the last possible legal moment. Crabtree could not reasonably campaign against an opponent that refused to engage publicly in any meaningful way.
Given Forum Communications’ long-standing editorial positions, that Christmann clearly established himself as an ethical and legal liability to North Dakota prior to publication of the endorsement, and that editors knowingly withheld important factual information from its readers, we call on Forum Communications Co. to retract its indefensible endorsement of Randy Christmann for North Dakota Public Service Commission.