FARGO — A person responsible for the name-gathering process of a newspaper campaign ad that misused women’s names as victims of sexual assault has been fired, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp told multiple media outlets late Tuesday, Oct. 16.
“We will continue to be reviewing and finding out how this happened,” Heitkamp told Chris Berg with KVLY-TV, who tweeted video of the comment Tuesday. “We haven’t yet gotten to the bottom of how this list was released … the person who was responsible is no longer — who was part of that gathering — is no longer with the campaign anymore.”
On Wednesday, Julia Krieger, communications director for Heitkamp, confirmed a staffer was fired and said that person will not be named.
The newspaper ad, which ran in newspapers statewide Sunday, identified 127 women as victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or rape.
Since its release, several women have come forward stating that they never gave the Heitkamp campaign permission to use their names in the ad.
In a statement released Tuesday, Heitkamp apologized for the error.
“I deeply regret this mistake and we are in the process of issuing a retraction, personally apologizing to each of the people impacted by this and taking the necessary steps to ensure this never happens again,” Heitkamp said.
Kylie Oversen, former head of the Democratic Party in North Dakota and current candidate for state tax commissioner, told Forum News Service Wednesday that she is clear of any wrongdoing with regards to a campaign ad from Sen. Heidi Heitkamp that misused women’s names as victims of sexual assault.
Oversen, who was one of the 127 victims named in the newspaper ad, said that — while she was involved in the name-gathering process for the ad — she is not in any way involved with the Heitkamp campaign. Oversen left her position as chair of the Dem-NPL in June to focus on her campaign for state tax commissioner.
Though she didn’t mention exactly how many, Oversen said that she did provide the Heitkamp campaign with multiple sexual assault victims for the purpose of the ad.
“Most people I shared were people I knew personally,” Oversen said.
The victims were made aware prior and signed-off on being included in the newspaper ad, Oversen said, adding that none of the women who have come forward in frustration since its release were women whose names were provided by Oversen.
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On Wednesday, Oversen echoed comments from Heitkamp, calling the error a “serious mistake.”
“It was obviously a serious mistake and this isn’t a political thing … it is deeply personal to those impacted,” said Oversen. “My hope as someone who signed this letter is we don’t let the mistake override the intent of the letter.”
The campaign blunder came three weeks before Election Day, when North Dakota voters will decide whether to give her a second term over Republican challenger Rep. Kevin Cramer.
“There is no excuse or apology in the world that can undo what she has done to these victims,” Cramer said in an interview Tuesday.
A spokesman for the North Dakota Republican Party Tuesday called it “another example of Heidi Heitkamp exploiting whoever she can for political gain.”
Forum News Service reached out to the Cramer campaign for comment early Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Megan Stoltz, who was one of the women named in the ad that didn’t give the campaign permission to do so, said in a Facebook post that she, along with other women in her situation, are coming together to pursue legal action against the Heitkamp campaign.
“Our privacy was violated on this day, and we deserve closure,” Stoltz’ Facebook post reads. “In order to receive the closure we need, we are searching for a lawyer who will take our case. We need our own voice. Together, the women listed on Heitkamp’s advertisement are searching for competent legal refuge.”
In the ad, Stoltz was listed twice, once by her married name and once by her maiden name.
In an interview with Forum Communications columnist Rob Port late Tuesday, Stoltz said they have 22 women currently in the group pursuing legal action.
“We are looking for a lawyer,” Stoltz told Port Tuesday. “We just need to find one who will actually take the case. We’ve called around, but most lawyers aren’t interested in politics.”
After an initial matchup between the two candidates was canceled, Heitkamp and Cramer will meet for their first highly anticipated debate at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18.