St. Louis County Commissioner Pete Stauber, the Republican candidate for Congress in the Eighth Congressional District, communicated with a key GOP group in Washington using his government e-mail address, according to a review of county records.

The e-mail traffic would appear to be in violation of a St. Louis County policy, which states "elected officials will not use St. Louis County equipment in support of their own campaigns for re-election, other candidates for public office, or political organizations."

Stauber, a retired Duluth police officer, is locked in a tight race with Joe Radinovich, a former DFL state lawmaker, to fill an open seat being vacated by Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, who is retiring.

The Eighth District, which President Donald Trump won by more than 15 percentage points, is considered one of Republicans' best shots at flipping a Democratic seat in the entire country, and control of the U.S. House of Representatives could turn on the race.

The Stauber campaign declined to make him available or provide access to the e-mails, which were sent to and from the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). In a statement, the campaign said Stauber "continues to be laser-focused on visiting with Minnesotans in the Eighth District and listening to their concerns, not getting distracted by desperate smears from the left."

St. Louis County responded to a Star Tribune public records request by confirming that there were 15 e-mails to or from the NRCC. "All of which were correspondence between individuals and an elected official," according to James R. Gottschald, human resources director for the county.

The county declined to provide the e-mails, citing a Minnesota statute that makes correspondence between private individuals and elected officials private. Gottschald released a statement Thursday afternoon stating that the county "proactively reviewed the emails through the lens of our Code of Conduct for Elected Officials Policy and were satisfied that no investigation or further review was warranted."

The law also states that the correspondence may be made public by either the sender or the recipient. Stauber declined to do so. The NRCC did not respond to a request to do so.

Stauber's annual salary as a county commissioner is $59,421.70.

Government resources

The use of government resources to do campaign tasks is an ongoing issue in a political landscape in which campaigns are seemingly unending, and people have access to multiple modes of communication in their pocket via a smartphone 24 hours per day. Congress has its own strict rules that separate official business from campaign business, with members and aides forced to leave government buildings to conduct campaign business and often requesting campaign-related inquiries be sent to campaign — rather than congressional — e-mail addresses, for instance.

Stauber, who has won the support of Trump — including a June visit to Duluth — has also cultivated the support of the NRCC, which is expected to spend millions on his behalf as they try to keep Democrats from picking up the two dozen or so seats they need to take the speaker's gavel.

A late August St. Louis County news release announced that "Stauber has invited U.S. Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon to Duluth to learn more about the treatment and recovery help being offered in St. Louis County for people battling opioid addictions."

Walden, who is the emeritus two-term chair of the NRCC, visited a drug treatment clinic in Duluth and did a roundtable with Stauber, who then memorialized the visit via his campaign e-mail newsletter.

Star Tribune staff writer Jessie Van Berkel contributed to this story. J. Patrick Coolican • 651-925-5042