Seemingly unsatisfied with his total inability to conduct the business of his office as it’s presently constituted, Secretary of State Corey Stapleton went today to the State Administration and Veterans’ Affairs to request a bill draft giving direct oversight of the staff of the Office of the Commissioner of Political Practices to the Secretary of State’s office. That would be an astonishing power grab under normal circumstances but given Mr. Stapleton’s failures at SOS (from mismanagement of staff to an inability to report vote tallies for the call for a special session), it’s a power grab from someone who seems to need a much smaller, less important agency, not one with expanded powers.
Stapleton’s call to take over the Commissioner’s Office ignores one fairly obvious issue: the Commissioner’s office oversees campaign finance reports and filings for all elected officials, including, of course, the Secretary of State. In effect, Stapleton is proposing to give himself (and every future Secretary of State) oversight over campaign finance violations. Stapleton, who is currently using the state seal for political purposes, actually offers a specific example of just why the Commissioner’s office needs to be separate from elected officials who will have to campaign.
Back in 2012, we reported that Stapleton was almost comically abusing the “pass the hat” provision of campaign donations that allow candidates to not individually report donations under $35, collecting far more money than any other candidate had under those provisions and, in one case, violating the $35 limit during his futile bid for governor.
While other candidates—who were actually able to raise money during the race—were reporting “pass the hat” donations of $173.00 from 40 people, Stapleton’s reports suggested that he was raising $4,600 from 150 attendees at an event. In fact, as we noted then, Stapleton raised over $10,000 in pass the hat donations at three events, implausibly getting $30, $31.20, and $30.66 per person at those three events.
And guess who oversees violations of “pass the hat” donations? The Commissioner of Political Practices.
Mr. Stapleton’s proposal suggests that a candidate like himself would be better suited to head the body that oversees such practices than an independent Commissioner, an idea that would be laughable were it not so dangerous.
Stapleton’s proposal today was met with surprise by both Democrats on the committee and the current Commissioner, Jeff Mangan, who indicated that he did not know what Stapleton was proposing.
The bottom line is that Mr. Stapleton has failed to do the job he’s been entrusted with. His office is a revolving door, with staffers desperate to flee, he can’t manage an election without alienating the people who do the real work of running Montana’s clean and fair elections, he embarrassed himself in Court while representing the people of Montana, and he can’t seem to understand that he’s not being paid by the people of Montana to promote himself personally and politically.
Individually, giving the human embodiment of the Napoleon Complex direct say over COPP would be a disaster for all those reasons and more. Far more important, though, is the simple fact that the way Montana keeps its fair elections and maintains oversight of those who would break the law in campaigns is to keep a strong, independent COPP willing to pursue and investigate those who would undermine our elections.
Even Corey Stapleton should know that.