Dartmouth College and Stanford University today apologized for a controversial Montana campaign mailer. They’ll send follow-up letters to the 100,000 people who got that mailer, telling them to ignore it. Those letters are supposed to arrive before election day.
"I think it’s a good first step," says Linda McCulloch, Montana's Secretary of State. "I think it’s a good pre-election step."
She announced the apology and follow-up mailing promise by the schools at a press conference in Helena this morning. McCulloch says the state may take legal action on the matter after the election.
The flyer that caused the controversy was devised by assistant professors at Dartmouth and Stanford. They mailed it to a 100,000 people in several Montana cities last week.
It described itself as a “voter guide,” and offered information on Montana’s Supreme Court race. The flyer compared the four men in the race to Barak Obama and Mitt Romney.
It was emblazoned with the official Montana state seal, which McCulloch says is, “inappropriate, deceitful and illegal.”
"I also thought the flyer was trying to influence votes, instead of being a research project," she said.
State Political Practices Commissioner Jonathan Motl says much about the mailer is still unclear, including the motivation behind it. He says he’s heard two possible explanations. The first is:
"It is an inappropriate exercise by two very young assistant professors at Stanford and Dartmouth, and they just didn’t know what they were doing. I don’t know if I buy that one."
The other possible explanation, Motl says, would come once it’s clear who exactly paid for the mailer. That’s still unknown at this time.
"Perhaps there is a direction to this academic adventure which is explained by the source funding. We don’t know that right now, and we’re not going to know that, until we finish the investigation."
The state’s investigation won’t be wrapped up until after the election. Motl says fines and other sanctions remain a possibility, but he doesn’t expect the investigation to be completed until early next year.
Dartmouth and Stanford are conducting their own investigations. Motl says the follow-up mailer they agreed to send will cost about $52,000, and that the schools will pick up the tab for that. Secretary of State McCulloch says she believes this is the first time in Montana history that a campaign mailer has been retracted.