Rob Port reports, you decide — and maybe the FEC, too. After Heidi Heitkamp’s campaign used the names of several women without permission and claimed they were domestic-abuse survivors, the women involved threatened legal action against the Senate Democrat — including some who said they weren’t victims of domestic violence in the first place. Heitkamp has been on an apology tour ever since, including at last night’s debate with Republican challenger Rep. Kevin Cramer:

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp opened her debate Thursday against Republican challenger Kevin Cramer with a renewed apology for a newspaper ad attacking her opponent that improperly identified some survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, calling it a “grave and horrible error.”

“I am praying for guidance and forgiveness,” the Democrat told the nearly 200 people at Bismarck State College during her and Cramer’s first debate before the Nov. 6 election.

The campaign followed up by buying yet another ad for North Dakota newspapers, this time to carry an apology from Heitkamp herself. The apology may be complete — it’s not the kind of non-apology apology politicians usually offer — but the ad itself falls short of completion. Can you tell what’s missing?

Here’s a hint: Who paid for the ad? The disclosure required by the FEC on all campaign communications would tell us, if Team Heitkamp had included it:

As you can see, it doesn’t matter if the ad doesn’t contain an explicitly political message. If it was paid for by the committee, it must have a disclaimer. The ad above, as it appeared in the Minot Daily News, doesn’t have that disclaimer.

Was it paid for by the campaign committee? Or did Senator Heitkamp pay for the ad out of her own pocket? The latter might mean that the FEC’s disclosure requirement doesn’t apply.

NARRATOR: It wasn’t from her own pocket.

I got in touch with the folks at the Minot Daily, and they said the ad was paid for by the campaign.

“It was paid for by the campaign committee and it came to us through NDNA,” publisher Dan McDonald told me this morning, referring to the North Dakota Newspaper Association.

It would seem this apology ad, which has already been criticized for being tiny compared to the full-page size of the original ad being apologized for, also runs afoul of FEC rules.

Oopsie! Port tried to ask the Heitkamp campaign directly, but so far they haven’t responded to his inquiry.

Obviously, the egregiousness of this mistake pales greatly in comparison to the one for which Heitkamp is apologizing. If the latter was an electoral felony, this would be the equivalent of running a stop sign. However, it demonstrates a level of incompetence from her campaign staff that wasn’t solved by firing one of them yesterday in response to the scandal Team Heitkamp created. Not only did they blow an easy lay-up against Cramer in the ad, they can’t even get their shoes tied on the proper format for an ad. Good grief.