Corey Stapleton Featured Montana Politics

Why Won’t the Secretary of State’s Office Respond to Public Records Requests?

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As readers of The Montana Post know, the Montana Secretary of State’s office swore, under threat of perjury, that a constituent (me) was threatening their copyright by posting a video produced and broadcast using state dollars. That action led to the Stapleton video being removed from YouTube and required that I affirm, under threat of perjury, that the copyright was not violated. Stapleton’s office now has until May 8 to decide whether to take me to U.S. District Court to prevent you from watching the video.

The night I received the takedown notice I issued a public records request to the Secretary of State, sending an e-mail to the main office e-mail, the e-mail for Mr. Stapleton’s chief of staff, and the e-mail address of his Communications Director. A week later, I sent a second request, and yesterday I sent a third request. Even though I can confirm that the e-mails have been received by Stapleton’s office, I have received no response.

Here is the text of my request:

I am writing to request the opportunity to inspect or obtain copies of all public records, including e-mail correspondence, written memos, and text messages sent or received by Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, Christi Jacobsen, Laura Nelson, and Dana Corson related to the submission of a DCMA takedown notice for a video entitled “Montana Secretary of State Tells Voters to Invalidate Their Ballots” on Youtube.

I further request the opportunity to inspect or obtain copies of all public records, including e-mail correspondence, written memos, and text messages sent or received by Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, Christi Jacobsen, Laura Nelson, and Dana Corson related to copyright infringement.

I further request the text of the Copyright Infringement Notification submitted to Youtube regarding the “Montana Secretary of State Tells Voters to Invalidate Their Ballots” video.

I request that the information be provided electronically. If there will be any fees for these records, please inform me if the cost will exceed $100. I request a waiver of fees, though, as the information I am requesting is not for commercial purpose.

I would appreciate an acknowledgment that your office has received this request. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

I’m not a reporter, just a citizen, but the beauty of the Montana law is that it protects the right of every one of us to inspect the records produced by government officials. Montana’s transparency laws are some of the most powerful in the nation, protecting our right to know how government officials are spending their time and our resources. They don’t have the right to hide embarrassing information or information that might hurt them politically; they’re obligated to provide what we ask for so that we can provide a check on government abuse, waste, and fraud.

Mr. Stapleton wants to deny our access to those records: first, through his effort to hide an embarrassing video in which he demonstrated that he’s not up to the task of his job, and next, in his refusal to provide records about the decision to threaten a critic.

I don’t care if Mr. Stapleton thinks that my requests are politically motivated. They are.

I don’t care if Mr. Stapleton would find the release of the video and records related to his decision to threaten me embarrassing. They are.

All that I care about is that Mr. Stapleton complies with the law. The Montana Code Annotated 2.6.1002 (13) makes it clear that public information is anything “fixed in any medium and is retrievable in usable form for future reference” and public information is defined as “” information prepared, owned, used, or retained by any public agency.”

Mr. Stapleton needs to withdraw his copyright claim and he needs to turn over the records I have repeatedly requested. A very little bit of embarrassment is surely not more important than ensuring that a little sunshine hit the west wing of the capitol or that Stapleton complies with the laws that govern us all.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-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.

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