Helena—Today, the Montana Democratic Party filed a complaint with the Commissioner of Political Practices alleging that Secretary of State violated Montana law when he announced his 2020 gubernatorial campaign using a state email address. The full complaint can be found here, and the text of the complaint can be found below.
“Secretary of State Corey Stapleton’s use of official state resources to announce his next political campaign is only the latest example of how he has repeatedly injected partisan politics into his official duties over the past two years,” said Monica Lindeen, Executive Director of the Montana Democratic Party.“Stapleton must be held accountable for his actions because Montanans deserve better than politicians who manipulate their public office for personal gain.”
Stapleton’s behavior during his first two years as Secretary of State have raised a number of legal and ethical questions, including his decisions to:
- Grant a $265,000 printing contract to friend and political ally Jake Eaton after the Secretary of State’s office failed to proofread a voter guide sent to Montana voters;
- Hire Jake Eaton’s wife, Emily Smith, to represent Montana during a legal challenge last year instead of retaining a lawyer through the Montana Department of Justice, which caused Attorney General Tim Fox to remark that Stapleton “made a political decision to needlessly spend $60,000 on outside counsel and lost the case;”
- Use an official email newsletter to attack the media as “obsessed with the sideshows of personality and politically incorrect language of today” instead of focusing on “the policies and impact of leadership decisions;”
- Allege, without providing any supporting evidence, voter fraud in the May 2017 special election before eventually conceding that no such fraud occurred.
Commissioner of Political Practices
1205 Eighth Avenue
Post Office Box 202401
Helena, MT 59620-2401
I write to file this formal complaint against Secretary of State Corey Stapleton alleging violations of MCA §2-2-121(3)(a).
On January 2nd, 2019, Secretary Stapleton sent out an announcement that he is now a candidate for the office of Governor of Montana. The announcement was sent from an official state email account and on letterhead containing the Montana state seal. Inquiries about the campaign announcement were directed to an employee of the Secretary of State’s office via an official state of Montana email account (see attached).
As you are aware, §2-2-121(3)(a) prohibits the use of state facilities to support or oppose a political candidate. As you are also aware, the Montana Supreme Court has directly addressed the issue of whether utilization of state email accounts constitutes a violation of the foregoing statute. In Molnar v. Fox,2013 MT 132, ¶ 45, 370 Mont. 238, 252, 301 P.3d 824, 835, the Court held:
“It is improper for an elected official to send a campaign email from a State account at any time of the day…”
Therefore, Secretary of State Corey Stapleton’s conduct constitutes a serious breach of public trust and is clearly prohibited by law.
Even so, Stapleton denied the announcement email was political to the Helena Independent Record, writing in a text message: “No — absolutely not. It’s not campaigning.” However, Stapleton is a longtime politician, and it is extremely difficult to believe that he is ignorant of Montana law prohibiting him from using official state resources to announce his next political campaign.
I respectfully request that you investigate this matter and present your findings to the people of Montana.
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