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2020 House Race Corey Stapleton Featured Montana Politics

Corey Stapleton Made Us Pay for His Vehicle. Are We Paying His Rent Too?

Photo from MT SoS web page

It’s of little surprise that Corey Stapleton has found himself in a tiny bit of trouble once again, for the small matter of once again breaking state law and spending taxpayer money for yet another minuscule act of corruption.

The evidence of his misuse of a state vehicle might also show that Stapleton is letting Montanans pay his rent, too.

It seems our Secretary of State, fresh off his retreat from the gubernatorial race was caught by the Legislative Audit division for racking up 27,000 extra miles on a state-leased vehicle so that he could drive home to Billings at our expense.

Mike Dennison has the story:

The audit said Stapleton used the pickup truck to commute to his “familial residence” in Billings and to “remote work locations” on at least 69 days, totaling 27,000 excess miles on the vehicle. The office paid at least $5,700 in usage charges related to commuting from January 2017 through June 2018, the audit said.

You really ought to read the Audit report yourself. While the Legislative Audit Division lays out a clear case that Stapleton misused state resources and violated the state law by using an official vehicle to commute more than 30 miles, Stapleton’s office tried to defend his misuse of state resources, claiming that he was using “efficient planning and direct routes” to limit “wear and tear on the vehicle.”

Absurd as that rationalization is, I’m hard pressed to understand why the people of Montana are paying for Stapleton to use any vehicle, much less an oversized pickup truck, to commute, no matter the distance. Stapleton ran up almost $13,000 using the truck. One would imagine that someone who makes the salary he does should certainly pay for his own damn vehicle.

That Stapleton was commuting home so often offers more evidence to support a story I have been working on for months.

During much of his tenure in Helena, Stapleton has been staying at the Hampton Inn rather than establishing a permanent residence, something that we have been told by staffers at the Secretary of State’s office and confirmed through some old-fashioned sleuthing.

What we’ve been trying to establish for months is whether Stapleton is being reimbursed by his office for those expenses. There does seem to be a pattern suggesting he has been putting the costs of his hotel on his credit card and getting reimbursed. A review of the State Transparency web site reveals these entries, where the Office of the Secretary of State was, in fact, reimbursing the person of the Secretary of State:

  • $550 to Montana Secretary of State on 11/21/2017
  • $380 to Montana Secretary of State on 12/21/2017
  • $295 to Montana Secretary of State on 1/22/2018
  • $990 to Montana Secretary of State on 2/21/18
  • $310 to Montana Secretary of State on 3/21/2018
  • $2150 to Montana Secretary of State on 4/23/18
  • $1175 to Montana Secretary of State on 5/21/18
  • $965 to Montana Secretary of State on 6-21/18
  • $840 to Montana Secretary of State on 7-23/18
  • $1125 to Montana Secretary of State on 8-21/18
  • $650 to Montana Secretary of State on 9-21/18
  • $410 to Montana Secretary of State on 10-22/18
  • $641 to Montana Secretary of State on 11-21 /18
  • Hampton Inns Helena on 7/23/18
  • Hampton Inns Helena on 2/21/19

At first, the amounts seemed too low to be for hotel stays, but given their precise amounts, regular intervals, the prevailing state rate for hotel stays, and Stapleton’s penchant for frequently driving home to Billings at taxpayer expense, it seems more and more plausible to believe that the Secretary of State has been letting us pay for his rent, too.

The last bit of evidence suggesting this might be true is the public records request process itself. Stapleton’s office has done everything possible to delay sending me the information, from ignoring my request for months to attempting to charge me $572 for what they claimed would be over 1,000 pages of receipts.

They’ve cashed the check for my latest request, and I suspect we’ll find confirmation for my theory once they finally send the actual records.

For now, it’s a theory. We’ll see what the receipts show, but at this point, would anyone possibly be surprised that Stapleton is exploiting state government for his own benefit again?

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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