The Montana Democratic Party on Wednesday filed a complaint with the state Commissioner of Political Practices over the use of a state email address to announce Secretary of State Corey Stapleton's bid for governor in 2020.
On Jan. 2, Stapleton announced on his Facebook page he was running for governor in 2020. An employee within the Secretary of State's office, using a state email address, later sent a press release on state letterhead announcing the bid.
The announcement also directed inquiries about the campaign to an employee of the Secretary of State's Office, using her state-issued email address.
The complaint, filed by Democratic Party executive director Monica Lindeen, asks the commissioner to investigate the ethics complaint and issue his findings.
A state law prohibits the use of state facilities and resources to support or oppose a political candidate. In her complaint, Lindeen also cited a Montana Supreme Court case about using a state email.
In the 2013 case, the court upheld that former Public Service Commissioner Brad Molnar improperly used state resources for political purposes by including his PSC email address and PSC phone number on a fundraising letter and using his PSC email address on his campaign website, as well as using his PSC email for other campaign business.
"It is improper for an elected official to send a campaign email from a state account … " the state Supreme Court opinion reads.
"Secretary of State Corey Stapleton's conduct constitutes a serious breach of public trust and is clearly prohibited by law," Lindeen wrote in a letter attached to the complaint.
The commissioner's office said Wednesday it had received the complaint and is asking Stapleton for additional information before making a determination to accept the complaint.
While it is an ethics complaint, confidentiality does not apply in complaints filed against elected officials.
In a news story the day of Stapleton's announcement, the secretary said he did not have any concerns with using state email to send the message.
"No — absolutely not. It's not campaigning," Stapleton said in a text message.