Campaign for Accountability Files House Ethics Complaint Against Montana State Legislator Kerry White for Violating Conflict of Interest Laws
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 4, 2020
Contact: Michael Clauw, email@example.com, 202.780.5750
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a nonprofit watchdog group focused on public accountability, recently filed an ethics complaint against Montana State Representative Kerry White for violating state ethics laws by simultaneously serving as a state legislator and working as the executive director of the 501(c)(3) anti-public lands lobbying organization, Citizens for Balanced Use (CBU). On May 7, 2020, CfA sent a complaint to Speaker of the Montana House of Representatives, Greg Hertz, urging him to refer the matter to the House ethics committee.
CfA Executive Director Daniel E. Stevens said, “Representative White is trying to have his cake and eat it too. He gets paid by CBU to advocate for policies that he then supports as a public official. By serving in dual roles as the head of CBU and as a state legislator, Rep. White may be acting in the interest of his organization’s donors in violation of state law. The State Legislature needs to investigate whether Rep. White did anything and wrong whether he should have recused himself from any legislative matters.”
Rep. White has served in the Montana Legislature since 2013, and he has been involved with CBU as a board member or executive director since he joined the legislature. In 2016, he received an annual salary of $24,000 from CBU.
On its website, CBU openly touts as its organizational accomplishments the actions taken by Rep. White in his position as a state legislator. CBU also directly lobbies the state legislature in support of bills authored by Rep. White. For instance, during the 2015-2016 legislative session, CBU lobbied in support of two bills authored by Rep. White.
Rep. White’s dual role is particularly troublesome given his position as a member of State Legislature Environmental Quality Council interim committee. As a part of the committee, Rep. White advocates for removing protections for wilderness study areas, a longstanding goal of CBU. Rep. White, therefore, has used his legislative position to benefit CBU, and himself, in his role as the executive director of CBU.
Montana law prohibits legislators from accepting any compensation “except the official compensation provided by statute, for promoting or opposing the passage of legislation.” State law also requires members of the legislature to disclose any conflicts of interests. By serving as the paid executive director of CBU, Rep. White appears to have accepted compensation for his official actions and failed to disclose a conflict of interest.
On May 7, 2020, CfA also submitted an ethics complaint to the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices (COPP), Jeff Mangan. Commissioner Mangan declined to accept the complaint because COPP is “without jurisdiction to make a determination as to the veracity of the allegations,” and referred the issue to Mr. Todd Everts at Montana’s Legislative Ethics Committee. It is unclear if Speaker Hertz has directed the ethics committee to investigate the matter.
Previously, in September 2019, CfA filed a complaint with the IRS seeking an investigation into whether CBU violated its nonprofit tax-exempt status by engaging in substantial, unreported lobbying activity. The complaint was based on research completed by the conservation group Western Values Projects, revealing that CBU had extensive lobbying contacts with state and federal officials yet failed to disclose the lobbying activity on its annual tax returns.
Mr. Stevens continued, “Rep. White’s serial misconduct should immediately be investigated by the State Legislature. At a minimum, Rep. White should recuse himself from all matters pending before the State Legislature Environmental Quality Council interim committee while ethics officials investigate this matter. No one is above the law.”
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.