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Montana Politics

Secretary of State Stapleton Using the State Seal for Political Purposes?

Photo from MT SoS web page

Every elected official uses her state web site for political purposes. While he seems to have removed the GIANT picture of himself from the Department of Justice page, Attorney General Tim Fox certainly is using his official page to promote his brand. Matt Rosendale puts himself at the center of his office’s page, and Elsie Arntzen went as far as transforming the logo for the Office of Public Instruction to one that looks like her campaign logo. Governor Bullock’s landing page is more focused on the work of the governor’s office, but certainly includes photos and links to information about him.

Of the Montana electeds, though, Secretary of State Corey Stapleton most aggressively uses the page for his state office to promote himself.  Visitors are treated to a full header photo of the Secretary, a bizarre YouTube video that features Stapleton talking off-camera about himself, and a news feed that curiously seems to be missing any news about the ongoing dispute between Stapleton and Montana’s county elections officials.

Strangest to me, though, is that Stapleton is using his official page to talk about his election campaign, offering a link where visitor can “follow Secretary Stapleton as he fulfills his campaign promise.”

That page highlights Stapleton’s campaign promise to visit all 56 Montana counties, an ambition that is off to a slow start as he’s only managed to visit four (Cascade, Lincoln, Hill, and Custer) so far. Somehow, he’s managed to miss Missoula, which he claims is running wild with election fraud. One imagines that Stapleton will somehow improve the pace of his very official visits closer to 2020, but he’s off to a very slow start.

At the top of the page is an image of the Montana state seal, modified with Stapleton’s signature and his “Things That Matter” logo. That seems problematic, as the state seal cannot be used for political purposes and the person in charge of protecting the integrity of the Seal is Secretary of State Stapleton. From the SoS web page:

State Seal Not For Political Campaigning

Candidates should not use the Montana state seal on campaign literature.

One element of the Secretary of State’s job is to serve as keeper of the Great Seal of the State of Montana. The office grants permission for organizations or individuals who want to use the seal on materials. That permission is typically not given for political campaigns because it would imply that a campaign already had the endorsement of the people of Montana.

It’s a small matter, but an important one. Stapleton has used the state’s resources to explicitly link a modified version of the state seal to his campaign promises, an explicitly political purpose. Would his office condone any candidate simply removing “Oro y Plata” from the seal and adding the candidate’s name? How could his office deny use of the seal to other candidates now that Stapleton himself is using the seal for political purposes?

It’s unavoidable that elected officials will gain benefits from the stature of their office, but Secretary Stapleton, as the person responsible for overseeing Montana’s elections and the state seal, should be especially aware of the responsibility to separate the political from the official functions of office. Based on his early performance in office, Mr. Stapleton certainly doesn’t have “the endorsement of the people of Montana,” and his official web site should not suggest that he does.

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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