ST. IGNATIUS – Even while voting is ongoing, a complaint filed last week with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices is asking that the election results be voided if specific candidates win seats on the Flathead Joint Board of Control.
Alan Mikkelsen of St. Ignatius says a group that opposes a proposed water rights compact for the Flathead Indian Reservation, and an accompanying proposed water use agreement between the board and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, violated multiple Montana campaign laws when it distributed materials supporting two candidates and advocating for the defeat of their opponents.
Mikkelsen’s complaint says the campaign letter was distributed by the Western Montana Water Users Association on April 18, the same day ballots were mailed to irrigators.
That in itself violates Montana Code Annotated, Mikkelson says, by being mailed during an ongoing election by mail ballot.
The letter, Mikkelsen charges in his complaint, makes false accusations against FJBC chairman Walt Schock, who is up for re-election, and the Cooperative Management Entity of the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project.
It is a prohibited contribution from a corporation, he alleges, and violated another law because no fair warning was given of the mailing before an ongoing election.
“WMWUA is not registered as a political committee, nor has it filed any election reports as such a committee, listing donors and donor amounts,” Mikkelsen writes in his complaint. “That in itself may be in violation of MCA 13-37-210, Naming of Committees. Under MCA 13-37-225, there has been no report of contributions and expenditures. At the very least, WMWUA is in violation of MCA 13-37-217, contributions in the name of an undisclosed principal. Without disclosure, WMWUA may also be in violation of MCA13-37-216, limitations on contributions.”
The letter, which Mikkelsen attached to his complaint, is headlined “Important information: Your water rights are at stake” and addresses seven points.
Within its four pages, the Western Montana Water Users Association claims that Schock receives most of the benefits of a tribal pipeline project “yet only paid part of the bill,” and says board member Steve Hughes “holds numerous tribal grazing leases and his livestock herds have grown substantially in only a few years.”
Both men, the letter says, “have consistently supported the CSKT’s proposed compact and FIP agreement” and “must be voted off the board.”
“FIP” refers to the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project.
Hughes holds the board’s only appointed seat. Four of the other 11 seats are currently up for election, with two of them contested. The letter urges irrigators to vote for Schock’s opponent, Jerry Laskody, in the Mission District, and for Shane Orien over Susan Lake in the Flathead District.
Schock and Lake both support the complex and controversial compact, which was negotiated between the state, the federal government and the tribes over the past decade. The compact, which depended on the separate water use agreement, stalled in the Montana Legislature this year.
Proponents say it was negotiated in good faith, protects current water uses, will avoid years, if not decades, of costly litigation and is the best possible solution. Opponents say it gives the tribes too much control over water in western Montana and will create insurmountable problems for non-Indian irrigators on the reservation.
Mikkelsen is a former consultant for the Flathead Joint Board of Control, and is also an irrigator on the reservation.
Election ballots are due back to the Lake County Elections Office by May 7.