HELENA – The state Republican Party has filed an ethics complaint over Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock’s use of Montana Highway Patrol officers for security when he campaigns for president.
But Bullock’s office said Monday his campaign addressed the issue two weeks ago, forging a new agreement to reimburse the state for “incidental expenses” for the officers — lodging, meals and travel — when they accompany Bullock on the campaign trail.
“The governor’s campaign has agreed to reimburse for out-of-state travel costs associated with his executive protection — even though it is not legally required by Montana law,” said Marissa Perry, the governor’s spokeswoman.
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The governor’s office signed the agreement with the state Justice Department July 2 — almost two weeks before the ethics complaint was filed by state Republican Party Chair Don Kaltschmidt on Friday.
The complaint, filed with the state Office of Political Practices, said Bullock is violating state law by using state resources to help his presidential campaign — namely, the money that covers the officers’ expenses on campaign and campaign fundraising trips to Iowa and elsewhere.
Bullock’s office said Monday it also has asked the state commissioner of political practices for an “advisory opinion” on whether the current arrangement complies with state law.
Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan’s office told MTN News it had received the ethics complaint and request for the advisory opinion, but would not comment further.
Bullock got into the presidential race May 14 and has since traveled to Iowa several times to campaign, as well as New Hampshire, Florida, California and other spots to either campaign or hold fundraisers.
State Republicans almost immediately raised the question of whether Bullock’s presidential campaign should pay his state security costs while he campaigns.
The Senate Leadership Fund, a GOP political-action committee, also paid for TV ads in Montana criticizing Bullock for using state resources to campaign.
Bullock told MTN News in May that under a 2017 agreement with the state Justice Department, which employs the Highway Patrol officers who provide “executive protection” for Bullock and his family, the agency not only paid the costs of the security but also decided when that security was needed.
But on May 31, Republican Attorney General Tim Fox told Bullock his office would no longer provide security for the governor’s out-of-state travel.
Bullock’s office then offered to renegotiate the agreement, leading to the July 2 memo that says the campaign will pay for the “incidental expenses” of the security detail when the governor campaigns for president.
Salaries of the officers will continue to be paid by the state because they would be paid regardless of whether the governor is campaigning or not, the governor’s office said.
The governor’s office also said the campaign would not be reimbursing the state for security officers’ campaign-related incidental expenses incurred before the July 2 agreement.
Those expenses occurred under the old agreement, under which the Justice Department made the decision on when and how MHP officers would provide security and paid for those expenses, the governor’s office said.
-Mike Dennison reporting for MTN News