Second Letter to Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton
More Questions About Ethics, Professionalism, and Arrogance
December 17, 2018
This is a second letter I sent to Corey Stapleton, the Montana Secretary of State at the time. I sent this letter on November 14, 2018. It was initially unclear whether the implementation of Secretary Stapleton's "Go Digital" policy was done out of ignorance and incompetence on the part of Secretary Stapleton and his staff, or it the policy is founded in arrogance and malice, with an intent to disenfranchise some Montanans and discriminate against Montana business owners and potential Montana business owners based on socio-economic status, geophysical location, age, and religion. However, after two letters clarifying the issues, discussion with Secretary Stapleton in person in front of other business people and community leaders when Secretary Stapleton visited Butte as part of his Things That Matter tour this last April, it is abundantly clear that this policy is being kept in place our of arrogance and malice, and that Secretary Stapleton is actively trying to restrict who can have a business in Montana based on Secretary Stapleton's personal ideas of who is worthy.
In keeping with Secretary Stapleton's offices practice and process, it has been over a month since I sent this letter, and I have not received any form of response, though the office did receive the letter on November 19, 2018. As past experience shows, I shouldn't be expecting any kind of response any time soon... Responding to constituents does not seem to be something Secretary Stapleton believes in.
November 14, 2018
Montana Secretary of State
P.O. Box 202801
Helena, MT 59620-2801
- You did not bother to read my letter. This is rather insulting and very unprofessional of you and your staff, but nearly everything in your reply made it absolutely clear that neither you nor Mr. Defilippis actually read the letter you were sent.
- You did not have sufficient information to make this policy decision in an educated, informed, professional, and equitable manner, and you continue to keep yourself ignorant of the facts needed to make such a policy decision. Or, you did have sufficient information to make this decision, and you made the decision out of malice and arrogance with the intent to harm Montana businesses and you continue to stand by your decision to cause harm.
- While you claim to be using your office to teach the people of Montana and Montana businesses about internet security and safety, you do not have sufficient knowledge of internet security and safety and online privacy protection to keep yourself, your staff, or the records you are entrusted with as the Montana Secretary of State secure and safe, let alone teaching others how to do the same.
You claim that "filing online will protect your transaction more than ever before." However, you then proceed to recommend:
All of these are insecure and high-risk methods of processing this information. In fact, they not only put the user (business owner) and their information at risk, but they also reduce the security of the system that you have put in place. If you know enough about internet security and safety to be making the claim that this process is safer than ever (as you have), you absolutely need to be telling users that they:
- using a public terminal at a local library or other location
- having a neighbor, sibling, son/daughter, etc file on your behalf
- use a neighbor's, son's/daughter's, sibling's, etc's internet access (this may also constitute a violation of that person's internet access agreement with their provider)
- have another member of your business or an employee use their internet access (again, this may also constitute a violation of that person's internet access agreement with their provider)
- Use a free email service to get an email account if you do not have an email account.
Doing any of these also reduces the security of the entire business registration system. Any person or business who has done any of these things puts all of the information the Secretary of State has collected in this system at risk. By recommending this you have insured that the system is no longer safe and secure, and are encouraging unsafe and insecure processes to Montanans, putting them at further risk.
- MUST NOT complete this process from a public terminal (such as those at a public library or available to the public through a business, coffee shop, cafe, or school)
- MUST NOT use a tablet, phone, laptop, or mobile device connecting on a public or open wi-fi connection (such as at a coffee shop, city park, cafe, or school)
- MUST NOT have a friend, neighbor, son/daughter, sibling, etc. complete this process for them
- MUST NOT use a sibling's, neighbor's, friend's, son's/daughter's, etc's internet connection
- MUST NOT have another member of the business or employee use their internet access
- MUST NOT use a free email service for the email account used to file this information, particularly not Yahoo! or AOL, which both have long reputations of having their email systems and user information compromised.
This policy is wrought with problems, none of which you addressed in your letter, unless the intent of your letter was to state that you just don't care about the problems or issues and don't care about Montanans and Montana businesses, nor the security and integrity of the data you are responsible for as the Montana Secretary of State.
- This policy is unbusinesslike and unprofessional. You claim to be "Montana's Business Officer." As such you ought to conduct yourself as though you were operating a business. When operating a business, you want to listen to your customers and you want to give them reasonable options. When you give customers reasonable options, you improve your business and improve your success. As an agency of the Montana government, you ought to be providing options for people as far as payment methods for their fees and methods for completing the necessary filing paperwork.
Furthermore, the Secretary of State in Montana is charged with facilitating record keeping and to facilitate Montanans registering their businesses. This policy does not facilitate these processes. In fact, it impedes these processes. While giving people reasonable options will facilitate registering and reporting, limiting to only one process - and one that you acknowledge is not available to everyone - impedes this process. Exactly the opposite of your obligation.
- This policy is unethical and inconsiderate. There are people in this state who for personal or religious purposes do not embrace technology. Some of these people are business owners. The Montana Secretary of State has an obligation to all Montanans, not just those whose beliefs allow them to use technology, to comply with the law and register their businesses. As Secretary of State, you have an obligation to have a record of their businesses as well, and you are not allowed to violate their Constitutional rights under both the US Constitution and the Montana Constitution. Furthermore, as an ethical individual, you have an obligation to recognize these people's differences and reasonably accommodate those differences.
Furthermore, there are individuals who are prohibited from having internet access in this state. This policy removes their ability to have a business and have it properly registered with the Secretary of State.
There are also businesses that are legal in this state, but that are restricted in what, if any, banking services they can legally use due to differences in Montana law and Federal law. This policy directly impedes these businesses from filing with the state.
- This policy is also uninformed, arrogant, and elitist. This policy is founded on the assumption that everyone has internet access and everyone has a credit card. Not all businesses or business owners have either, let alone both. You claim to have traveled all over this state hearing from businesses and learning from them. If you have actually been traveling around the state, you would know that there isn't internet access available everywhere, and just because there isn't internet access available, doesn't mean that there aren't businesses in those locations. In fact, if you were keeping up on Montana news, or had read the letter I sent you initially, you would know that it wasn't until January of 2018 (this year) that internet was finally available in all schools in Montana. But you arrogantly assume that internet is available at all business locations in Montana.
Despite your assertions that "there are some things you can assume about any business," you just can not assume that businesses all have internet access or credit cards, let alone both. This may be for financial reasons, for religious reasons, for personal reasons, for legal reasons, or for geographical reasons. It is exclusive and elitist to presume that everyone has this access, and has no place in public policy.
You also suggest that businesses could have their accountant or registered agent file for them. This, again, is arrogant and elitist. Not all businesses have the means or ability to have an accountant or agent.
- You claim that this process is fast and easy. It is far from it. In your office, with assistance from your staff, last year, it took over an hour to get through the process (and I have nearly 30 years experience using the internet and 25 years experience as a web developer, what about people with less experience). The previous paper system took less than a minute. How can you claim, with a straight face that over an hour is faster than a couple minutes? You claim that the old process was expensive and error prone. The old process was:
How could it get any easier? How was this process error prone? How was this process expensive? You are clearly only forcing people to use your new web-based system because you need to justify the expense of the new system.
- Get the document
- Review the document
- Make a correction on the document if necessary
- Sign and date the document
As you can readily see by examining the facts and the policy, there is no condition under which this policy is even acceptable, let alone good. There are far, far too many holes, problems, and shortcomings; and the policy is clearly exclusionary in nature - designed to restrict which people can have businesses, which businesses can continue to operate, and where businesses can be located. That is absolutely not the Montana way.
Furthermore, your response is absolutely irrelevant. It does not address the legality of your policy in any meaningful way. While you do address the law that allows Montana departments to create online systems for record keeping, data collection, and record filing, if fails on all important factors related to your requirement that Montanans exclusively use this new online system.
- What law did the Montana Legislature pass and was signed by the Montana Governor that allows the Montana Secretary of State to levy taxes without Legislative oversight, beyond the reasonable filing fees you are allowed to charge for processing business registrations and filings? Without this law, you are prohibited from forcing citizens to purchase extra services beyond those that are provided by the State or your office.
The Secretary of State does not have the authority to require people to purchase telecommunication or banking services you are not providing.
- What law did the Montana Legislature pass and was signed by the Montana Governor that gives the Montana Secretary of State the authority to hire independent tax collectors without Legislative oversight? Without the authorization to hire tax collectors, you are prohibited from forcing citizens to purchase services that they do not pay a State office directly for.
Again, you cannot force people to purchase telecommunication or banking services you are not providing.
- What law did the Montana Legislature pass and was signed by the Montana Governor that authorizes the Secretary of State to pass on your granted authority to levy taxes to third-party tax collectors to determine taxation rates on their own without Legislative oversight? Without your office having the authority to pass on the not only the collection of taxes, but the determination of rates of taxation, your office is prohibited from requiring citizens to purchase services not provided by the State from external parties where the external party is allowed to determine their own fee structure.
Yet again, you cannot force people to purchase telecommunication or banking services you are not providing.
- What law did the Montana Legislature pass and was signed by the Montana Governor that gives the Secretary of State the authority to allow tax collectors the Secretary of State has authorized to collect taxes on behalf of the State without Legislative oversight to keep the taxes they have collected? Without this authority, you are prohibited from requiring citizens to purchase services not provided by the State from external parties where the external party gets to keep the charges and fees they require of those citizens.
Once again, you cannot force people to purchase telecommunication or banking services you are not providing.
- What law did the United States Congress enact that was signed by the President of the United States that allows the Montana Secretary of State to refuse cash payments? Cash payments in United States currency are defined to be legal tender for ALL debts, public or private. As such, if a debt exists, cash must be accepted for payment. Unless you are declaring that Montana businesses do not have to register with the Montana Secretary of State, you must accept payments in cash.
And if you are saying that Montana businesses do not need to register with the Montana Secretary of State, you must cite the law passed by the Montana Legislature and signed by the Governor stating that registration of businesses is optional.
You may choose not to accept checks, but if you do so you need to have an office at least in every county in Montana, if not more accessible, since cash should not be mailed and requiring people to travel to Helena without compensation for travel time and lost productivity is unreasonable and unethical.
Furthermore, if you, or any member of your staff, is aware of any agencies or departments in the Montana government that refuses payment in cash for existing debts, you have an OBLIGATION as a public servant to be a whistle-blower and report that agency or department and bring them into compliance, and insure that Montanans know about the agency's non-compliance. Failure to act as a whistle-blower is unethical, irresponsible, and absolutely unacceptable.
- What law did the Montana Legislature pass and was signed by the Montana Governor that gives the Secretary of State an exemption of the requirement that if an electronic filing system is created, that paper versions must be provided when requested? Without this exemption, your office is required to provide a paper copy for those requesting it.
Had you read my previous letter, you would know that I believe that having an online system as one of the options for registering a business or filing annual paperwork is good, but only if it there are also other options as necessary to meet Montana businesses' needs or preferences. Had you read my previous letter, you would also know that I believe that accepting credit cards as a payment choice is also good, but only if the organization also accepts other methods of payment in order to comply with legal requirements and to meet Montana businesses' needs or preferences.
At a minimum, the Secretary of State's office should offer an apology for the problems caused by this system along with providing a means by which paperwork can be filed without internet access and paid for using legal tender without the requirement of a credit card. The implementation of this policy was a significant embarrassment for the Secretary of State's office and for the State of Montana.
It is unfortunately very clear that Secretary Stapleton does not have any interest in actually providing services for Montanans and Montana businesses, except as he sees fit.