Corey Stapleton Montana Politics

Corey Stapleton Is Charging Me $267 To Review Six Receipts. Want to Help Out?

Photo from MT SoS web page
Written by Don Pogreba
Shares

As we have reported in the past few weeks, Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton has made a series of intriguing expenditures during his time in office, including services at a Helena car wash, an $800 charge at a tire store, an Amazon Prime account, bottles of wine and even video rentals. All of them were charged to state-issued credit cards, meaning that those expenditures came from resources intended for the service of the people of Montana, not the people who work for us in state government.

When, as a citizen of Montana I asked for documentation about these expenditures, I was told the Secretary of State wanted $267.16 to find some receipts. Today, I received this response from Christi Jacobsen, Stapleton’s chief of staff:

Thank you for your interest in the Secretary of State’s Office.  Per 2-6-1003, MCA and 44.2.204 Administrative Rule, the cost to gather all of the requested documentation is $267.16.  If you would like copies, the cost is $.50/page.

Please let me know if you would like us to proceed.

Christi

They must have a very expensive copy machine in Stapleton’s office to go along with all the new office furniture and computers they’ve ordered for the senior and political staff in the past few weeks and I have some serious concerns about state officials hiding behind ridiculous charges to hide their expenditures, but I want to call their bluff and pay the fee.

And that’s where you come in. In the twelve years we’ve run this site, we’ve never run ads to pay for our server costs, never asked for donations for our work, nor ever considered any kind of fundraiser.  If you’ve ever appreciated our work or just really want to know why Secretary Stapleton spent $748 on tires within two weeks of taking office, would you consider throwing us $5 to cover the costs?

I’ll certainly make up the difference, but if you don’t think state officials should be able to hide behind charging constituents for basic information, how about throwing the cost of a good Montana beer our way? Since you’ve been paying for Mr. Stapleton and his staff to have coffee and lunch for the past nine months, why not spend just a bit more?

I’d appreciate any help you could throw my way. The GoFundMe account is available here.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a seventeen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

14 Comments

  • I don’t think you should be charged a dime. It shouldn’t take SecST’s office more than a few seconds to pull up the receipts on its computer and send you electronic images of them by electronic mail. The $267.16 charge is punitive, and intended to discourage you from making further requests — and it suggests to me that there might be something to hide.

    • I agree with James. Your request is consistent with open government. It is reasonable to ask you to pay for copies – but not at $0.50/page – but only if you are requesting a large volume. As a taxpayer, you already have compensated the office for the staff time required to respond to your request. As an alternative to GoFundMe, you might ask an attorney who understands administrative law to donate a letter to the Secretary of State on your behalf.

  • I might have to temper my previous response after looking at ARM 44.2.204 . The Secretary of States Office does have authority to levy fees for records searches. It seems to me that the operative question is the matter of how to apply 44.2.204.1(b) “Fees charged for other services provided by the Secretary of State’s office are not affected by this rule, including but not limited to document and record services provided by the Business Services Division, Administrative Rules Services, Notarial Services, and Records and Information Management Services.” The question is whether the records that you are requesting are records within those, defined by rule, for which the Secretary of State has authority to levy fees.

  • Done, and it looks like the fundraising is going well. If there’s any surplus, I, like Cory, could use some new tires for my rig.

  • Some school districts demand cost-prohibitive amounts for public record requests, too, fyi, as a way of discouraging such requests. Perhaps with the surplus you can donate to DHHS to provide diapers for babies and some service for our disabled kids whose programs are on the chopping block due to the state Repubs’ fake budget and obstructionism of our governor?

  • I guess the answer to your question is YES! We would all be willing to kick you a few bucks to find out what’s behind the curtain. Good on ya for pursuing this line of questioning.

  • Hi Don,

    When I filed open records request to Governor Bullock’s office and Montana DNRC back in 2014 to get information regarding his no public notice, no public input process he used to nominate 5 million acres of U.S. Forest Service public lands in Montana for ‘fast track’ logging ‘categorically excluded from the requirements of NEPA,’ I too received an almost identical response from Lucy Richards at the Montana DNRC as you got from Christi Jacobsen.

    Also, when I filed an open records request to the University of Montana to get information about the UM’s proposed $18 million biomass boiler and the roll that key UM administration such as President Engstrom, former UM VP Jim Foley and former UM VP of Finance Bob Duringer I also got a similar request for outrageous copying fees from David Aronofsky, UM’s general counsel at the time.

    What worked for me in both these cases, as well as a number of other Freedom of Information Act requests dealing with the U.S. Forest Service (one time, back during Bush 2 the USFS wanted to charge me over $10,000 for a FOIA request) was just to be persistent and insist it was my right to see these documents, whether I had the money to pay for them or not. So, I’d suggest endless pressure, endlessly applied and perhaps have a lawyer friend also write a quick note to the SoS office. Good luck.

  • Thank you Mr. Progrega for this report. Keep digging and writing for Montanans. As Shakespeare once said, “Something is rotten in Denmark.”

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: