Montana Public Service Commissioner, Roger Koopman, has filed a lawsuit against the City of Bozeman for using public funds to advocate for a political issue. The suit, which he calls “powerful,” targets what has become a rampant abuse by government agencies, as many publically-funded agencies commonly lobby, campaign and advocate, at taxpayer expense, on political issues or bonding measures to the disadvantage of the privately- funded opposition.
“I have filed a lawsuit against the City of Bozeman, not just to fix the problems of tax-funded government dominance of elections here in Gallatin County, but to actively stop these abuses from happening all across the state – by school districts, city and county governments, and by state agencies and their employees as well. At present, whenever governmental self-interest is threatened, these entities devote massive public resources to illegally propagandize on one side of the ballot issue (initiatives, referenda, bond issues…) — often overthrowing the will of the people and determining the outcomes,” writes Koopman in a plea for donations to help fund legal costs.
The suit challenges the City of Bozeman for allegedly having spent $100,000 to promote the recently successful campaign to get voters to approve a $37 million bond issue to build a “safety center.” “…nowhere have these unconstitutional abuses become more blatant,” said Koopman, adding, “Opponents never had a chance. How do you compete against your own tax dollars, and tax-paid city employees?”
The plaintiff is being represented by attorney, Chris J. Gallus, Helena, and the case has been filed in 18th Judicial District Court.
Koopman explains that it is against the law for public entities to use public resources to advocate politically. If his lawsuit is successful, it will void the “city-corrupted election and demand that all governmental entities follow state law in the future, which expressly forbids the use of public resources for political advocacy.”
State law reads: “…a public officer or public employee may not use public time, facilities, equipment, supplies, personnel, or funds to solicit support for or in opposition to any political committee, the nomination or election of any person to public office, or the passage of a ballot issue…”
Koopman said that he has donated “out of my own pocket” $2500 to initiate the lawsuit, but needs $10,000 more, immediately, and another $20,000 beyond that, to continue it. “We will be fighting against tax-paid city attorneys and staff, and tax-paid city costs. Their coffers are almost limitless.”
Koopman claims that the publically-financed political campaigning “is threatening the very integrity of our electoral process and rapidly transferring ‘government by the people’ into ‘government by the government.’”