Secretary Of State Candidate Calls Ethics Complaint 'Desperate Democrat Attack'

Jan 28, 2020

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Woodrow Johnston's name. The story has been updated.

A Montana Republican primary candidate for Secretary of State is calling an ethics complaint lodged against her on Jan. 27  by Montana Democrats a “desperate attack.” The current Chief of Staff for Secretary of State says Democrats have nothing on her.

A spokesperson for Christi Jacobsen says she broke no laws when she brought up her own candidacy during a work-related interview with Newstalk KGVO earlier this month.

"My understanding is that this was a situation where a reporter asked her a question and she just answered it," says Woodrow Johnston, a strategist for Jacobsen's campaign. "She was not actually doing anything against the law."

The ethics complaint has not yet been accepted by the state’s commissioner of political practices.

Earlier this month, Newstalk KGVO’s Peter Christian asked Jacobsen on the program in her capacity as deputy Secretary of State to get details about candidate filing dates. The first day candidates could file for office was January 9.

Jacobsen responded with general information about required paperwork and fees.

"For instance, the Secretary of State the salary is, the annual salary, is $98,104 and so filing fee is $981.04," she said. 

"Don’t forget the four cents!" Christian said. 

"That's right. I know that because I paid it yesterday when I filed for office," Jacobsen said. 

Later in the interview Jacobsen said her boss, current Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, had endorsed her as his replacement.

Executive Director of the Montana Democratic Party Sandi Luckey lodged an ethics complaint over the exchange with the state Commissioner of Political Practices. Luckey alleges Jacobsen broke state law by using public time to solicit support for her run for office.

"She works in the Secretary of State's office," Luckey says. "She's very proud on social media to say that she's been running the office for three years. In this particular position, she should know better than anyone how to conduct a campaign appropriately."

State Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan says he expects to decide whether to accept or decline the complaint in the next ten days.

Prior to last May, ethics complaints were confidential until the commissioner considered whether the complaint was under the office’s jurisdiction.

Strategist Johnston says Democrats are scared because Jacobsen is an obvious frontrunner.

"It was a perfectly fine phone call," he said. "There was no law being violated. This is again just Democrats going out of their way out of desperation to find something."

Jacobsen is vying against state Senator Scott Sales, Montana Supreme Court Clerk Bowen Greenwood and state Representative Forrest Mandeville in the Republican primary race for Secretary of State. Jacobsen lags behind Sales in cash on hand but out-fundraised him in the most recent reporting period. Both have lent tens of thousands of dollars to their campaigns.

State Senator Bryce Bennett is the only Democrat in the race.

Montana’s primary election is June 2.

Editor's note: A line was removed from this story because muddled audio couldn't verify the accuracy of the trascription.