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Montana Politics

Should the Montana Meth Project Receive State Funding in Difficult Financial Times?

An obvious question, given the Montana Meth Project’s request for funding from the Legislature, might be to ask how they intend to spend the money. Using data collected from the Meth Project’s IRS 990 forms, I find it incredibly difficult to justify their request for more money from the state. Let me be clear: I have no doubt that the people who started the Montana Meth Project and who continue to work for it today are good-intentioned, but good intentions aren’t enough to justify the kind of expenses that are involved in the maintenance of this program.

Salary Expenditures

Year Peg Shea Staffer

Meth/Teens

2005 $31,184 $10,021

2%

2006 $119,280 $39,280

6%

2007 $130,000 $49,191

4%

It’s hard for me to understand these salaries. Is anyone else in Montana seeing annual raises of over $10,000/year? Should the state be funding an anti-drug that pays its executive director more money than any elected state official, with no public oversight or accountability involved? At a time when state workers (some of whom work directly with the dire impacts of drugs on families) are being asked to take a salary freeze, is it fiscally responsible or ethical to transfer state funds to pay private citizens salaries well out of line with state pay?

Public Relations Expenditures

Meth/Teens

2005 $116,147

2%

2006 $614,648

6%

2007 $166,834

4%

Almost a cool $900,000 in public relations expenses? This goes to the heart of my complaint about the Montana Meth Project. As I mentioned last night, the MMP has done a remarkable job of promoting itself, and the surveys the organization has conducted seem almost exclusively designed to measure that impact, rather than its impact on drug use by young people. While it’s fascinating to learn that 85% of students have seen one or more of the ads, it doesn’t matter if those ads aren’t having an impact on drug use, or worse yet, making students believe that the threat of meth is exaggerated and overblown.

Web Site Expenditures

Meth/Teens

2005 $91,732

2%

2006 $120,617

6%

2007 $47,008

4%

This expense is an obscene waste of money. While reasonably attractive, it certainly doesn’t offer a feature set that would justify this kind of expense. It’s infrequently updated, as evidenced by few new stories and outdated elements like raffles that have already ended. It’s not even especially busy, ranking as the 957,108th most visited web site. For the sake of reference, the Missoulian ‘s site ranks in the top 50,000. So, the Montana Meth Project is spending an average of $80,000 per year for an infrequently visited and updated site. If nothing else, that demonstrates incredible mismanagement and waste of funds that the state should not be subsidizing.

Lobbying Expenditures

Meth/Teens

2005 $0

2%

2006 $105,998

6%

2007 $81,803

4%

Reminiscent of the corporations who came to Congress begging for more bailout money while continuing to spend on lobbyists, the Montana Meth Project is hitting up the legislature for $2,000,000 while spending a fair amount asking for it. It would be reasonable to assume that these figures will be much higher when the current session is considered.

Public Service Messaging

Meth/Teens

2005 $3,723,746

2%

2006 $4,657,736

6%

2007 $3,132,804

4%

I’ll avoid the snarky observation that the year the Montana Meth Project spent the most money was the year in which the most Montana students did use meth just once, but it certainly raises questions about the efficacy of the program.

While I (and other critics of the Montana Meth Project) are just using ‘limited’ analysis, it’s important that the Legislature and Governor take a hard look at this program before giving it more state money. Even if the MMP’s own research is flawed, and the ad campaign has worked, what guarantee do the people of Montana have that the money won’t just be spent on a wasteful web site, increased salaries for staffers, and efforts to lobby for more money? There’s no accountability here, and our political leaders need to demand answers before signing off on something that will allow them to feel better about the drug problem without actually doing anything to alleviate it.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a 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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