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Dems ask for ethics investigation into Cramer tweet

North Dakota Representative Kevin Cramer speaks Sunday, April 3, 2016, at the ND GOP Convention at Scheels Arena in Fargo of his choice to endorse Donald Trump for president. Rick Abbott / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — North Dakota Democrats asked for an ethics investigation Monday, Jan. 8, into a tweet from Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer's official account that discussed campaign polling, a move that the third-term congressman called "petty."

The request to the Office of Congressional Ethics comes as Cramer weighs a run against Democratic incumbent Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. He expects to make a decision in the next couple of weeks.

Cramer's Dec. 30 tweet was in response to Forum Communications Co. columnist and radio host Mike McFeely, who said he'd "like to see Cramer's and Heitkamp's internal polling," tagging each politician's official account.

"It would break your heart to see our polling," Cramer said in response.

Scott McNeil, the executive director of the North Dakota Democratic-NPL, said Cramer's official Twitter account is subject to the same rules that prohibit congressional members' websites from including campaign information.

"By using official House resources for political purposes, especially to promote his presumed candidacy for the United States Senate, Representative Cramer is undermining the credibility and dignity of the House," McNeil wrote in a letter to the OCE. "While the only evidence of such misuse of resources presented here is a single tweet, the OCE must treat any evidence of the use of official resources for campaign purposes as significantly undermining the integrity of the House."

Cramer said it's a "petty complaint to say the least, but not surprising because this is what the North Dakota Democratic Party has sunk to." He said he was unsure whether it was a "technical violation."

Last month, Heitkamp drew condemnation from a conservative group for posting inaccurate information about the effect of the Republican tax bill on social media and elsewhere. That group, Americans for Prosperity-North Dakota, didn't suggest an ethics violation, however.

Meanwhile, North Dakota Democrats criticized Cramer Monday for reimbursing himself and paying family members, including a videography business owned by one of his daughters, more than $350,000 in campaign funds since 2011, according to Federal Election Commission records. That issue is not part of the Democrats' ethics investigation request and would "not necessarily fall under the House congressional ethics office," said Democratic-NPL spokesman Daniel Tick.

"It's certainly highly questionable as an ethical matter," he said.

The practice has come up before in Cramer's congressional career, most recently in a Politico article that said it could become a campaign issue if he ran for Senate.

Cramer defended the campaign-related payments, arguing that his wife, Kris, has been his campaign manager for three elections at a cheaper cost than what "25-year-olds get that come out of Washington, D.C."

The payments to Cramer list per diem entries, mileage and other reimbursements. He said there's nothing illegal or unethical about "doing what we do."

"In campaigns ... you want to have people work with you that you can trust," he said. "There's nobody you can trust more than your own family."

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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