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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Ethics Complaint Over Gov's Security Detail Dismissed As Frivolous

The sign outside the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Office.
Steve Jess
Montana Public Radio
The sign outside the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Office.

The Montana Commissioner of Political Practices (COPP) rejected the Republican Party’s complaint against Gov. Steve Bullock Monday, which alleged the Democrat is using state resources in his campaign for president. 

Commissioner Jeff Mangan rejected the ethics complaint against Bullock as frivolous.

In mid-July, the Montana Republican Party claimed Bullock was violating the state code of ethics because, as governor, Bullock has an executive protection detail assigned to him and, “officers are paid to protect the governor and travel with him on official state business within and outside of Montana.” 

The GOP said the protection detail traveling with Bullock while he campaigned for Democratic Party nomination violated the law.

In his analysis, Mangan writes that precedent allows Gov. Bullock, like other state elected officials, to pursue a nomination to another office, even while on public time, without violating the code of ethics.

He also writes that the GOP’s complaint failed to allege that the security detail did anything that, "solicited support for Gov. Bullock’s candidacy,” and the detail commander determines what activities the agents are involved in.

In early July, Bullock’s presidential campaign agreed to reimburse the Montana Highway Patrol protection detail for certain costs including travel, lodging, and meal expenses.

Mangan’s analysis says there is no indication that, “other state officials who received protection from Executive Protection Detail or the Montana Highway Patrol” have made agreements to reimburse the state for providing protection at campaign or political rallies in the past two years.

The COPP says the Detail has provided services for the president and vice president of the United States, visiting governors from other states, dignitaries from other countries, and other statewide elected officials in Montana.

Earlier this year, the Montana Legislature proposed a new law which would have required elected public officials campaigning outside of the state to reimburse the state certain for taxpayer-funded expenses. However, after the bill was amended to exclude official security detail, the bill died.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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