Mike Dennison – MTN News
HELENA — The arrangement for Gov. Steve Bullock’s state security detail, and who pays for it, is defined in a memorandum between the Montana Highway Patrol and the governor’s office — not in state law, as Bullock indicated last week while campaigning in Iowa.
Two Highway Patrol officers accompanied Bullock on his initial presidential campaign swing through Iowa last week, and the costs of that “executive protection” are borne by state taxpayers — as they are with any trip taken by the governor, whether it’s for political purposes or not.
Last week, Montana Republican Party Chair Debra Lamm said Montana taxpayers shouldn’t be “left picking up a nearly $300,000 tab to pay for (Bullock’s) pipe dream.”
Lamm’s figure is from a fiscal analysis provided earlier this year by the Highway Patrol, which estimated it will spend about $273,000 on executive protection for Bullock on out-of-state political trips in the year ending next month.
The memorandum between MHP and the governor’s office, signed in August 2017, says the salaries, benefits, travel and operating expenses of Bullock’s security detail will be paid by the Highway Patrol, unless “otherwise negotiated.”
Nothing in state law prevents the governor’s campaign from reimbursing the state for security costs related to Bullock’s presidential campaign travels. MTN News asked the campaign Tuesday whether it might reimburse the state for the security costs, but got no immediate response.
Bullock said Tuesday he doesn’t know how much time he’ll be spending on the campaign trail in the coming months, but that he’ll still be doing the work as governor, whether he’s in the state or not.
“I haven’t set out how much time I’ll be in one place or the other, but no matter where I am, and that’s been the case even before this, was regularly and directly connected to the governor’s office each and every day,” he said while attending a National Governors Association event in Whitefish.
Executive protection for Montana governors began in 2001, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Funding for the task initially came out of the state’s general fund, but later was transferred to the Highway Patrol budget.
Mike Tooley, director of the Transportation Department under Gov. Bullock, is a former chief of the Highway Patrol and was involved in the initial executive protection details under then-Gov. Judy Martz. He told MTN News Tuesday that the idea was to provide round-the-clock protection for the governor, because it’s in the best interest of the state to provide that protection.
During the 2019 Legislature, Rep. Forrest Mandeville, R-Columbus, introduced a bill that would require any elected official to reimburse the state for the cost of any fellow state employee who traveled with the governor on an out-of-state political trip.
The bill eventually died in committee. But before that final action, lawmakers decided to amend the bill to exempt the governor’s executive protection from any reimbursement requirements.
MTN News asked Bullock about his security detail last week in Iowa, and if the campaign is reimbursing the state for the costs. He said state law requires the detail to be with him, wherever he goes.
State Department of Justice spokesman John Barnes said Tuesday the agency is not aware of any state law requiring 24-hour protection for the governor, although the memorandum says the mission of executive protection is to “vigilantly provide for the overall safety of the Office of the Governor, including the Governor, First Lady, First Family, Lieutenant Governor and visiting dignitaries.”
There is a state law that says the Department of Justice “shall furnish” the governor with automobile transportation upon the governor’s request, as long as it’s for “official business of the state.”