ICYMI: Stunning Report Shows Gross Negligence, Theft in Secretary of State’s Office

Rachel Prevost2020, Jacobsen, News, Republicans

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Monday, October 26, 2020

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ICYMI: Stunning Report Shows Gross Negligence, Theft in Secretary of State’s Office
 
Helena, MT – The Helena Independent Record this weekend reported that the Jacobsen-Stapleton Secretary of State’s office knowingly overcharged hundreds of Montana businesses and refused to proactively issue refunds, let alone notify affected customers. The office is also refusing to answer basic questions as to the extent of the problem:

And while the office acknowledged the issue occurring over that month-long period, documents provided to Lee Newspapers show the problem also happened outside that timeframe.

Democratic candidate for Secretary of State Bryce Bennett held a press conference calling for an independent audit of the office, saying “They knew who these folks were and they didn’t lift a finger to get that money back in their pockets.”

Asked about the office’s stunning failure, Deputy Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen’s campaign “did not address any of Bennett’s criticisms.”

Helena IR: Emails show duplicate filing charges for biz filing with SOS
By: Holly Michels

For at least a month earlier this year, a website issue caused 1,200 duplicate transactions for businesses trying to make their annual filings with the Secretary of State’s Office.

Nearly 30 emails to the Secretary of State’s Office from business owners and others making filings like annual reports or articles of incorporation show business owners or their third-party representatives were charged duplicate times because of an issue with the filing website.

Some were charged twice, others several times, making it difficult to say how many businesses were affected. The office called it a “very small percentage of our customers.”

The emails show at least some businesses were not aware that their filings were never completed because of the error and did not realize that, or that they had been charged multiple times, until they received involuntary dissolution intent notices this fall.

And while the office acknowledged the issue occurring over that month-long period, documents provided to Lee Newspapers show the problem also happened outside that timeframe.

In a Sept. 16 email from a coffee and tea company, the business wrote that it first tried to file its annual report on March 17 but ran into problems.

“The website was wonky and charged us twice. We were then sent a notice in July that we had not filed our report,” the business wrote.

The business was told by the Secretary of State’s Office in July to send a request for a refund for two $20 charges plus a $15 late fee, but by Sept. 16 had not yet received it.

The Secretary of State’s Office did not answer a question from Lee Newspapers asking for a dollar amount of refunds that have been issued, though documents Lee Newspapers obtained show the total of the 1,200 refunded reaching about $29,600. The Secretary of State also did not provide a count of many businesses or duplicate transactions may have been made that have not yet been refunded.

In an Aug. 30 guest opinion run in The Billings Gazette, Secretary of State Corey Stapleton wrote that he had digitized the state’s business services registry in 2018 and reduced annual filing errors. “Montana businesses now enjoy an error-free relationship with our office,” Stapleton wrote.

Stapleton’s deputy, Christi Jacobsen, is running for the Secretary of State job this year against Democrat Bryce Bennett, of Missoula. The office is open as Stapleton did not seek re-election and instead ran in the Republican U.S. House primary this spring.

In an April 11 email, a business owner said on April 5, the day Ames said the software company fixed the website, they received an error message five times when trying to pay a filing fee.

The business was told to try again April 7, but wrote in the email to the agency “unfortunately, the issue is still there and I got the money taken out again.”

That owner requested a refund of $160 after finally paying by phone.

In another email, a foundation that was filing late on Sept. 11 wrote that they noticed duplicate charges on their credit card statement.

Montana Administrative Rules dictate refund amounts of more than $3 must be requested in writing.

Ames said those who were charged [sic] multiple times were not proactively notified.

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