Senate candidate and State Auditor Matt Rosendale evaded public scrutiny and open records laws by not only using a private e-mail account for his official business as Senate Majority leader in the Montana Legislature but by also requesting that his official account be deleted.
Rosendale, who served as Senate Majority leader during the 2015-16 session, sent a request to the Montana Legislature Help Desk requesting that his official account be deleted because he claimed “he’s able to organize his MidRivers.com [personal account] and provide information if requested for Discovery.”
That’s an unusual step. While many legislators list personal accounts on the state web page, a practice that should end, it’s uncommon for a legislator to actively request a deletion of the account. In fact, as Legislative Services notes, Rosendale claimed not to have a password for his state account and the state’s retention system did not recover any e-mails when the account was deleted.
Rosendale’s decision to conduct official business on a personal account means that he was able to avoid the disclosure and access to open records that the Montana constitution demands. When American Bridge contacted the Montana Legislative Services on January 22 of this year to request Rosendale’s email, they received this response:
“As Mr. Rosendale’s midrivers.com email is a personal account, we have no ability to fulfill this request. Please contact him directly for this information.”
Choosing to close his state-issued account was an unusual choice, even in the era when politicians mix personal and public communication. A report from 2017 shows that leaders in the Legislature like Rosendale have long been offered mt.gov accounts to conduct business. Senator Fred Thomas, who served as the Majority Leader in the last session, lists a public, state-issued account on his legislative page.
Montanans have a right to know who Rosendale was communicating with during the session and who was trying to influence his votes. The 2015 session was especially contentious, with battles over Medicaid expansion, the failure of the Legislature to pass an infrastructure bill, and a host of gun bills all taking place while Republicans were engaged in civil war with each other.
The public has the right to inspect the communications that led Rosendale to cast the votes he did and his decision to hide those communications in private e-mail undermines the constitutional rights of all Montanans.
And you don’t have to take my word for the importance of public officials using government-issued accounts for public business. Just ask Rosendale, who in 2016 retweeted a post claiming that Hillary Clinton committed crimes by using a private account:
What did Mr. Rosendale have to hide as Majority Leader in 2015? And why did he go to such lengths to ensure that we’ll never find out?