Panel to question Stapleton about spending

HELENA (AP) — Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton plans to testify before a legislative committee later this month and answer questions about two state contracts his office awarded to a Republican consultant and his wife.

State Administration and Veterans’ Affairs Interim Committee chairwoman Sue Malek, a Democrat, requested that Stapleton, a Republican, appear before the panel on Nov. 13.

Stapleton has accepted the invitation, his chief of staff, Christi Jacobsen said Friday.

Malek wrote Stapleton a letter Thursday that says she wants him to address two contracts that raised concerns of potentially inappropriate spending.

The first was a $265,000 printing contract to fix errors contained in the state voter information pamphlet. An Associated Press public records request revealed that the contract went to a longtime Stapleton ally, GOP consultant Jake Eaton.

Eaton, a former executive director of the Montana Republican Party, owns a print shop in Billings. His bid for the job wasn’t the lowest, according to state Department of Administration officials, but secretary of state officials said Eaton’s company was the only one that could get the corrections in the mail the same day absentee ballots were sent to voters on Oct. 12.

The second contract was for $60,000 to hire Eaton’s wife, Billings attorney Emily Jones, to represent Stapleton’s office in a lawsuit earlier this year challenging Stapleton’s certification of the Green Party for November’s elections.

Stapleton said he didn’t hire lawyers from the attorney general’s office because he considered it a political case and he wanted someone he could trust in the courtroom.

That prompted Attorney General Tim Fox, who is also a Republican, to fire back by saying Stapleton made a political decision and needlessly spent $60,000 on a case that he lost.

A judge kicked the Green Party off the ballot after disqualifying dozens of voter signatures on the certification petition.

Malek said in her letter to Stapleton that concerns about those contracts compelled her to request he address the committee.

“Montanans have a right to know that their elections and the office primarily responsible for overseeing local elections is being diligently managed,” Malek wrote.

Jacobsen did not comment on Malek’s letter other than to say that Stapleton will appear before the committee.

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