NEW YORK -- A Republican state legislative candidate in North Dakota, who is also a college fraternity member, blamed a miscommunication with a graphic artist for an illegal campaign flyer.
John Mitzel, a 20-year-old University of North Dakota student, said that use of the state seal in an ad released by him and running mate, fellow UND student Ross Lien, was unintentional and that they plan to correct the ad as soon as possible. Mitzel is seeking a state House seat and Lien a state Senate seat in a Grand Forks district dominated by the UND campus, Greek houses and off-campus student housing.
"That was a miscommunication with our graphic artist," Mitzel told HuffPost. "He was unaware of the details of the design."
The flyer touts the duo as "educated, trustworthy and dedicated" and uses an image of the state seal in the background. The North Dakota Century Code prohibits use of the seal for political purposes, defining it as a class B misdemeanor in the state. Class B misdemeanors in North Dakota are punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and 30 days in jail.
Grand Forks County State's Attorney Peter Welte confirmed to HuffPost that the state Democratic Party had contacted his office with information about the use of the state seal. He said that his office does not have the jurisdiction to investigate the case and can only prosecute after an investigation by the Grand Forks police department. He said that he told Democrats Monday afternoon to contact the police.
One of Mitzel's Democratic opponents, state Rep. Corey Mock, indicated that he hopes Welte does handle the case down the line, noting that he believes that local prosecutors do not handle political cases in a state that has been deemed the "most corrupt" in the country by USA Today and the Center for Public Integrity.
"It is my understanding that these matters have been forwarded to the Grand Forks County state's attorney for investigation and further action," said Mock, who has pushed ethics reforms in the state. "Unfortunately, most state's attorneys turn a blind eye to campaign and election laws in our state, allowing candidates and elected officials to play into the narrative that North Dakota is the most corrupt state in the country."
Mitzel said that he and Lien did not know of the prohibition, which is listed on the secretary of state's website under "great seal."
"I was unaware of that," Mitzel told HuffPost.
When asked if he proofed the ad, Mitzel said, "No comment." He stressed that a new version of the ad is going out without the seal.
The ad also includes misspellings for two words, including part of "higher education."
Mitzel is challenging Mock, 27, and Democrat Kylie Oversen, 23, who served as UND student body president until recently, for one of the 42nd District's two open state House seats. Lien is running against Sen. Mac Schneider (D) for the district's Senate seat. Rep. Stacy Dahl (R) is not seeking a third term.
With the district dominated by UND, the legislators have trended young, with Schneider at 33 being the oldest candidate in the race. For most of the 2009 legislative session, Schneider, Dahl and Mock were all under the age of 30. Mitzel and Lien, 20, are both members of the Lamda Chi Alpha fraternity, which they tout as part of their campaign, and which Mitzel said will help attract student voters. Mitzel made news earlier in the race for an underage drinking arrest.
North Dakota Democrats are also highlighting a Lien/Mitzel campaign sign that does not include a "paid for" disclosure on the bottom, which is also in violation of state law.
"There is no excuse for candidates running for the legislature, or at any level, to allegedly commit multiple, egregious violations of state law while trying to earn the votes of their neighbors," Mock said.
Mitzel said he did not know about the sign.
"I have to look into that," he said. "I am not sure what it is."