If Coleman campaign were a business, they'd be screwed

Categories: Norm Coleman

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Yesterday, City Pages went Tweety-bird on the Coleman Campaign: We thought we saw a violation of a consumer protection law. With the help of various legal scholars in the state, including two at the University of Minnesota, it turns out we did... We did see a potential violation of a consumer protection law!

And judging from the way Coleman's campaign is addressing the various problems, Sylvester the Cat would have ran a better campaign.

The entire snafu focuses on the Coleman campaign storing thousands upon thousands of credit card security codes, in addition to entire card numbers, on their website. Any schmuck with a modicum of Internet skills had access to the private information.

Like we posed before, this seems to violate Minnesota law that prevents retention of such data.

Turns out, plenty of legal folks think the same.

"I am not an expert on this statute, but I can confirm that if a business retained security codes as the campaign apparently did, it would be violating both Minnesota law and the credit cards companies' security rules," wrote William McGeveran, Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota Law School in an email to City Pages.

"This retention rule is designed precisely to avoid security breaches from hackers," he says. "Retaining valuable information without a good reason is an invitation to identity theft."

Yet there still remain questions surrounding the notion of a campaign as a business, and if a donation is a transaction. If both are true, then Coleman's campaign could face something far worse than a whap on the head from Granny. (Sorry, had to see the Looney Tunes references through to the bitter end.)

CP followed up with McGeveran, asking him to clarify this issue. He wrote this in response:

No, sorry, I can't say that for certain.  As my colleague Steve Meili said, neither of those points is clear, at least as far as I know.  I just meant to tell you that if a traditional business retained security codes, it would certainly be a violation.

It may well be that no one has ever tried to apply the statute outside the traditional commercial context before.

I do think there are good *arguments* for interpreting the text as applying to a political campaign.  In particular I would argue that the "conducting business in Minnesota" language is just a way of establishing the state's jurisdiction, and should apply to a very broad understanding of "business" as any kind of activity occurring within the state.  But that is just my interpretation of the text, not an authoritative answer.

This leaves us at a standstill. But if the precedent he's set on the recount is any indication, Coleman will be arguing anything related to his campaign until the very end. And if he ever reaches that point, seems like he'll find a way to continue the argument for the sake of arguing, no matter what the consequence.

Coleman's campaign is the song that never ends.


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