By HDN Editorial Board
State law explicitly bans state employees from using state supplies, services and employee work time for political projects.
Bette Hill, wife of former U.S. Rep. Rick Hill and special projects coordinator for Gov. Judy Martz, may have violated the law when she made calls for the Montana Majority Fund.
State employees can't work on political matters, but they can work on issues. So whether the law was broken depends on whether the Montana Majority Fund is a political or an issue organization.
The fund was created under Section 527 of the IRS code, which allows political action committees unlimited use of corporate and other contributions for issue ads that don't directly promote candidates or causes.
The Montana Majority Fund, in its original papers filed in May with the IRS to create the committee, listed its purpose as "To contribute to candidates for state and local office," and "To support Republican issues." In early November, the group changed its purpose statement with the IRS, taking a broader approach of supporting conservative issues and economic development.
Hill said she didn't realize there was anything wrong with her work in helping to set up fund-raising events for the Montana Majority Fund and that she was told to make the calls as part of her job. Hill said she was told the Montana Majority Fund is a nonpolitical group created for economic development. Hill said she was assigned the task by either former Martz policy director Shane Hedges or former chief of staff Ed Bartlett. Hill said she didn't know if Martz knew or not.
When told of the possible infraction, Martz said, "Our laws are very explicit and there's nobody that works on our staff who doesn't know this we have made it very, very clear on the policy."
If Hill was doing Montana Majority Fund work, Martz added, "We just want to keep it separate."
To most folks the Montana Majority Fund appears to be a political organization. Even if the Montana Majority Fund is not a political committee, its agenda is political. Martz must have thought so too, if she intended her staff to keep it separate. The fact that the governor may not have been aware that the work was going on on state time doesn't remove her from responsibility. Every good manager knows that he or she is responsible for all of those who are under their supervision.
The law that bans state employees from conducting political work on state time is a good law. We encourage our governor to instruct everyone on her staff to once again review the law because, contrary to Martz's claim, not everyone on her staff was aware of the law, or some may have chosen to ignore it.