- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 1, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - A Democratic polling firm representing backers of a state conservation fund will pay $2,000 to resolve a complaint alleging violations of North Dakota’s do not call law, court records show.

The North Dakota attorney general’s office and Las Vegas-based Campaign Communication Solutions Inc. reached the agreement Wednesday. The company, which has offices in Washington, D.C., and California and also does business as Stones’ Phones, did not admit wrongdoing or liability, court records said.

The company allegedly made illegal prerecorded calls on behalf of North Dakotans for Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks, a group pushing a ballot measure that would funnel some of the state’s oil extraction taxes into a conservation fund. Backers of the measure want 5 percent of the state’s oil extraction taxes over the next 25 years, a sum opponents said would set aside almost $5 billion during that time for conservation projects at the expense of other state needs.

The ballot measure is among the most divisive issues facing North Dakota voters in November.

North Dakota law bars most organizations from making telephone sales calls to homes if the phone number is listed on a state “do not call” list. State law also bans most automated, prerecorded calls unless the call is introduced by a live operator.

Parrell Grossman, director of the attorney general’s consumer protection division, said alleged violations of the state’s do not call laws are among the state’s top consumer complaints. Like the complaint against the polling firm, most never go to court and are settled under a so-called assurance of voluntary compliance.

“We clearly believe they violated the law,” Grossman told The Associated Press. “But the primary goal is to ensure that the calls are discontinued and we achieved that.”

Grossman said Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, a Republican, received at least one of the automated calls from the group, though he did not order the investigation.

“Wayne did get a call but I was already aware of other calls being received,” Grossman said.

Marty Stone, who along with his brother Paul Stone runs the company, said the firm was “extremely aware” of North Dakota’s do not call law.

“This was not an attempt to ‘robo-call’ North Dakota,” Stone said. “It was an attempt to engage members of a number of organizations in a discussion about the initiative.”

The North Dakotans for Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks is made up largely of conservation groups that include Ducks Unlimited; Pheasants Forever, The Nature Conservancy, The National Wildlife Federation, and the Audubon Society.

Stone said pollsters only attempted to call members of the group with prerecorded telephone calls, as allowed under state law. He said the attorney general’s name and home telephone number was mistakenly obtained as a member of one of the groups.

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