- Associated Press - Monday, October 27, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Al Freidig and a few of his fishing buddies are briefly shown smiling and waving in a television advertisement pushing a plan to spend potentially billions of dollars of North Dakota’s oil tax revenues on conservation projects.

But Freidig and his fellow anglers are angered to see themselves repeatedly on statewide television ads because they don’t support the ballot measure, one of the most hotly debated issues facing North Dakota voters next week on Election Day.

“We did those ads to promote the state of North Dakota,” Freidig said. “It was not my intention or anyone in those commercials to be political.”

State Tourism Director Sara Otte Coleman said Monday that rules governing state-owned videos and photos might be amended but it would take a change in state law.

“The goal is to get the images out to the world for marketing and promotion,” she said. “Not for political advertising.”

The group North Dakotans for Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks obtained the footage free of charge from state tourism department. Coleman said the request by the group’s Washington, D.C.-based advertising firm raised red flags at the agency, which sought an attorney general’s legal opinion before video footage was released.

In a letter to the agency, Assistant Attorney General Edward Erickson wrote that the footage is available “to all persons under the open records laws.”

Coleman said people appearing in the images sign waivers. It’s been assumed the state-owned photographs or video would not be used for political purposes, she said.

“Now we have to have a disclaimer and look at a way to do it statutorily,” she said.

Steve Adair, chairman of the initiative campaign and director of the Ducks Unlimited office in Bismarck, said his group did nothing wrong.

“All of those people signed disclosures saying (their images) could be used in a public format,” he said. No one from his group inquired whether people in the television advertising actually supported the measure, he said.

Adair’s group and other supporters of Measure want 5 percent of the state’s oil extraction taxes set aside over the next 25 years, a sum opponents said would direct almost $5 billion during that time for conservation projects at the expense of other state needs. The current fund is capped at $15 million annually.

It’s the second issue with the group’s promotions in recent weeks. The group sent out a campaign mailer asking residents to protect “North Dakota heritage.” The problem? The advertisement depicts the Badlands in South Dakota - not those in North Dakota.

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