Preserving free elections is everyone’s business

Print Article

Free and fair elections are not partisan issues. Whether it’s imposing poll taxes in the Jim Crow South or rigging voting machines in Richard Daley’s Chicago, whenever public officials use the powers of government to control the ballot box, everyone loses. The bricks and mortar of our democratic republic crumble, and “government by the people” becomes “government by the government.” We cease to be free.

Perhaps the greatest expressions of the democratic process are ballot issues. But as the City of Bozeman recently proved with their massive propaganda campaign to pass the Public Safety Center bond, these kinds of elections also offer the greatest opportunity for publicly-funded corruption and control. In Bozeman’s case, the city co-opted this “direct democracy” process to achieve a predetermined outcome.

When local government places a bond issue on the ballot, the law requires that government to either stay out of the election altogether, or to operate within narrow educational boundaries. It must provide balanced information on the issue, and allow both sides equal access to public resources. When government devotes its almost limitless resources to advocating for one side of the issue, it crushes the democratic process and forces us to compete against our own tax dollars. The voice of the people is drowned out by the surround sound of big government. That is exactly what happened in Bozeman.

To preserve the integrity of the electoral process, state law expressly forbids what the City of Bozeman did, stating in part:

“…a public officer or public employee may not use public time, facilities, equipment, supplies, personnel, or funds to solicit support for or opposition to any political committee, the nomination or election of any person to public office, or the passage of a ballot issue…”

The Secretary of State’s Voter Information Pamphlet is a good example of what the law allows in the public interest. It’s very thorough but entirely neutral. The text for each statewide ballot issue is provided, along with equal-length arguments, pro and con, to assist citizens in casting an informed vote.

Compare this with the estimated $100,000 the city commission spent on its “Keep Bozeman Safe” bond issue campaign, including over $30,000 to a professional marketing firm for developing a slick logo, branding, talking points, public presentations, extensive advertising and a truckload of promotional materials. A partial list includes t-shirts, buttons, stickers, banners, posters, postcards, rack cards, mailers, bill stuffers, videos, social media and internet advertising, display ads and TV advertising. About the only thing they forgot was sky-writing.

Clearly, the city’s entire effort was designed to persuade, not to educate. It was the essence of advocacy politics, publicly-funded and professionally enhanced to win the election. No rational person would suggest that the city attempted to represent both sides. No one could look at their list of expenses and say this wasn’t a political campaign.

Meanwhile, city commissioners created not one but two registered political advocacy committees, which in turn engaged in wholesale illegal coordination, sharing their tax-funded logo, slogan, branding design and much more. Any private political campaign would be nailed to the wall for a fraction of these abuses.

So I have sued the City of Bozeman, calling for a new, uncorrupted election and judgments against the city for their illegal influence and domination of the electoral process. These issues is far bigger than Bozeman itself. These abuses are happening with school districts, city and county governments all across the state, and this lawsuit should send a message to them all. We are truly on a slippery slope, if we allow government to think it is above the law, and has the right to control its own elections. It must stop.

Roger Koopman served two terms in the State House of Representatives from Gallatin County. He is currently serving his second four-year term on the Montana Public Service Commission, representing Southwest Montana’s District 3.

Print Article

Read More Letters to the Editor

Letters to the editor Feb. 17

February 17, 2019 at 5:00 am | Daily Inter Lake No way to treat a military family It’s Thanksgiving time. Imagine receiving notice that your job is being terminated and you’ll have to reapply for something else. Imagine you’re essentially a singl...

Comments

Read More

Supermajority bill is a solution in search of a problem

February 17, 2019 at 5:00 am | Daily Inter Lake House Bill 148 would require a supermajority of the Montana Legislature to add a new tax or fee or increase an existing one. It passed the House 53-46 and is now in the Senate. The problem is that...

Comments

Read More

Infrastructure: Now is the time to build

February 17, 2019 at 5:00 am | Daily Inter Lake For a decade or more our Montana Legislature has grappled with the increasing need to renovate both Romney Hall on the MSU campus in Bozeman and the Montana Historical Society museum facility in He...

Comments

Read More

Let’s keep the miracle of capitalism

February 17, 2019 at 5:00 am | Daily Inter Lake To experience a miracle all you need do is go to the grocery store. Here in the middle of winter and Montana you can buy fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, bread, fish and almost any kind of food item ...

Comments

Read More

Contact Us

(406) 755-7000
727 East Idaho
Kalispell, MT 59901

©2019 Daily Inter Lake Terms of Use Privacy Policy
X
X