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Did Ritchie meet with the Franken campaign?

The Coleman-Franken Senate recount proceeded under the auspices of the State Canvassing Board constituted under Minnesota law. By virtue of holding the office of Minnesota Secretaty of State, Mark Ritchie served as one of five members on the State Canvassing Board. Indeed, he served as its chairman.

While Secretary of State Ritchie displayed no visible partisanship in his capacity as chairman of the State Canvassing Board, his work as Secretary of State appears to have proceeded in close collaboration with the Franken campaign. By mid-December it became apparent to me that Ritchie was communicating with Franken or his campaign out of public view. I set forth the basis for my inferences regarding Ritchie’s collaboration with Franken in “Minnesota’s recount goes south.”

Given his role as chairman of the State Canvassing Board, I believe Ritchie’s collaboration with Franken in the course of the recount to be inappropriate and improper. As a member of the State Canvassing Board, Ritchie serves in a quasi-judicial administrative capacity. During the recount, any communications between Ritchie and the Franken campaign that excluded the Coleman campaign would be in the nature of the kind of ex parte communications that are generally deemed improper in judicial proceedings.

On Monday last week we filed a freedom-of-information request with the Secretary of State’s office under Minnesota’s Government Data Practices Act regarding Ritchie’s communications with the Franken campaign. So far as I know, we are alone in raising concerns about Ritchie’s coordination with the Franken campaign during the recount.

Our request seeks documents relating to communications between Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie or his office and the Franken campaign. On Wednesday, the legal advisor to the Secretary of State’s office called to discuss our request. The legal advisor is Bert Black, who has worked in the Secretary of State’s office for some 30 years. (Bert and I were law school classmates along with Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Barry Anderson, who was one of the four judges filling out the State Canvassing Board with Ritchie.).

Talking about our request with Bert, I inferred that no reporter or news organization had submitted a freedom-of-information request since November 24, when Bert last responded to such requests. He sent me the information he had compiled in response to those requests. The lack of media interest in following this aspect of the recount story is striking to me.

Yesterday’s Star Tribune carried a story by Patricia Lopez about Ritchie’s decision to decentralize the manual recount at locations around the state. Lopez’s story concludes with a quote from Ritchie:

“We’ll meet [freedom-of-information] data practices requests,” Ritchie said, “but my role is done. This is really in the hands of three judges. We don’t have anything to do with it.”

Given the fact that as of last Wednesday ours was the only pending Data Practices Act request, I’m glad Ritchie intends to meet it. My guess, however, is that Ritchie’s coordination with Franken’s campaign occurred at in-person meetings that lack documentation in the records of the Secretary of State’s office. It would be nice if someone who does this work for a living got serious about some of the many stories underlying the recount.

JOHN adds: Lack of curiosity and the ability to avert one’s eyes at appropriate moments–of which there are many–seem to be among the prime job requirements for reporters in the mainstream press these days.

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