BY MIKE DENNISON
(KPAX) Secretary of State Corey Stapleton not only improperly used a state pickup truck to drive from Helena to his family home in Billings, but also drove it on weekends and holidays during the first 27 months on the job, according to a published report.
Yet Stapleton told MTN News Monday that a weekend story by The Associated Press had “no new information” and that his use of the state-owned truck “was always meant to enhance the results of the Office of the Secretary of State.”
A state audit released in June said Stapleton improperly used the 2015 GMC Sierra pickup from the state motor pool to commute from his office in Helena to Billings, racking up 27,000 excess miles on the vehicle from January 2017 through June 2018.
On Sunday, The Associated Press reported that state records showed Stapleton used the same truck on weekends and holidays during the same period, when he had no official events scheduled.
By the time Stapleton returned the truck to the motor pool this April, after auditors raised questions about it, he had put 67,000 miles on the vehicle in 27 months, the AP said.
Stapleton, who said he was working in Helena on Monday, a state holiday, said it’s not accurate to suggest his use of the vehicle on weekends or holidays had no connection to official work.
“Our agency missions require constant executive focus,” he said. “This constant attention and leadership is responsible for fixing Montana’s failing business registry, increasing election security, defending Montana in lawsuits, modernizing the way we store records and saving millions of dollars in payroll and rent.”
Stapleton’s office oversees state elections and the registration of business records.
Stapleton, 52, a former state senator from Billings, was elected secretary of state in 2016. He’s now one of five Republicans running for Montana’s open U.S. House seat in 2020.
He began using the pickup truck after he took office in January 2017, under the terms of a long-term lease with the state motor pool. He returned it to the motor pool as of March 31 and since then has used short-term leases of vehicles for official business.
The AP reported that Stapleton traveled an average of 500 miles a month from April through August, under the short-term leases. During the 27 months when he had the pickup truck on a long-term lease, he traveled an average of 2,500 miles a month.
The June audit, a routine review of the secretary of state’s finances, said employees using a long-term vehicle lease are not allowed to commute to a “telework” site more than 30 miles from their residence. It’s about 240 miles from Helena to Billings.
The audit findings were turned over to the state Justice Department, for possible legal action, and it forwarded the case to the Helena Police. After an investigation, the Helena city attorney declined to file any misdemeanor charges.
This story was originally published by the Missoula Current here.