I’ve quickly learned that politics is a dirty game. With only 22 ½ days until the election on November 2 the complaints from democrat candidates just keep stacking up in the office of the political practices commissioner. One must wonder if they even have merit. Are they factual complaints or just those to try and smear the other candidate because somebody is a sore loser?
That is the pile of candidates I’d throw Pam Ellis into among others this election cycle. Pam Ellis is running against James Knox in House District 47. Is it truly Knox’s fault that he has a larger grassroots base to help him campaign? We all know that with everything happening in Washington lately it is a great year to be a conservative Republican which is what James Knox is.
So, when Ellis used School District 2 in order to campaign I knew that this was not supposed to be ‘politics as usual’. For your information, here is a copy of various emails which went back and forth between Ellis and employees of SD2.
Too often candidates file complaints which stand on no grounds and are certainly without substance. So, why is it that when a regular everyday person attempts to file a complaint against a candidate they are told by the political practices commission that there is no ground to stand on?
On Saturday, September 25, 2010, the Billings community came together to help raise money for the Billings Schools at Saturday Live. This is a yearly event that was started 18 years ago and is run by the Education Foundation for Billings Schools. Its purpose is to raise money for Billings schools which is done predominantly by students from each school running tables with various activities that people pay to participate. Some tables, particularly the ones for elementary schools, have parents and teachers present throughout the day but in the case of older kids they are often left to run their tables alone with teachers and/or parents periodically checking on them.
Our high school student worked the Skyview table at Saturday Live and was directly affected by Pam Ellis’ campaign practices. After setup and the departure of their teacher for the day Pam Ellis approached our student’s table and stated that she had a basket of “sports schedules” to leave at their table. She did not introduce herself to the students at the table or her intentions but did indicate that she had spoken to their teacher and that permission had been given to leave a basket of these schedules on their table for people to take. It is important to note that Pam did not stay by this table during the day. Her campaign materials were left in the possession of the Skyview Choir students. As Pam left she also gave each student a copy of her schedule. These schedules, while having high school sports events on them, are clearly campaign pieces for Pam Ellis.
While following up on the events from Saturday I did find evidence that the Skyview Teacher had received a solicitation for assistance and permission to display campaign materials directly from Pam Ellis using Billings Schools email system. It is clear from the emails that permission was granted by the teacher to display the campaign materials but this does not clear Pam of her intentions, actions or use of the school email system. The teacher also clearly indicates that the email she received does not indicate that the materials are politically oriented which led her to believe these were nothing more than schedules.
During conversations with Krista Hertz and Julie Whitworth at the Education Foundation, I learned that a representative of Pam Ellis had called in advance of Saturday Live to discuss her plans to distribute her campaign materials by passing them out. Both Krista and Julie indicated that they did convey their preference that they not distribute materials at the event and that the people at the event were there for the kids not political purposes. They were also unaware that Pam had actually left a number of campaign pieces at the table with students, rather than handing them out as indicated in the inquiry, until I brought it to their attention. Julie Whitworth indicated that Pam had asked about volunteering at a table, which by appearance, would be to justify the “advertising” she had left at the table. As a business this would be appropriate if she followed the Saturday Live sponsor rules but she did not.
Additionally, as a candidate this does not justify her actions and demonstrates a willful effort to subvert Saturday Live’s requests and campaign practices as it is not appropriate for a candidate to be a sponsor at a school related event.
By leaving campaign materials at the Skyview table it clearly establishes an association of Pam Ellis to Skyview, that particular Skyview class, the teacher and Skyview students as well as the permission of the Education Foundation for her to use their event for this purpose. This is no different than a business displaying another business’s materials at their tradeshow booth or office. This proximity creates a positive association and by extension an endorsement. None of the parties involved endorse Pam Ellis nor is it ethical to suggest this connection. Additionally, her practices targeted minors and their causes as a delivery mechanism. It is not reasonable to put students in the position of deciding if this is appropriate or not – particularly when they have been told a teacher approved it. As a former teacher and administrator she would know this to be true.
In conclusion, Pam Ellis’ experience as a teacher and administrator for 25 years and as a candidate would make her acutely aware of campaign rules and how they pertain to schools and related events.
Her email to the teacher to request assistance in distributing her campaign materials is a clear violation of campaign practices in Section 2‐2‐121 (http://data.opi.mt.gov/bills/mca/2/2/2‐2‐121.htm) as well as Skyview and School District 2 policies. Additionally her indiscretion has caused unnecessary scrutiny and stress for Skyview and it teachers.
Her distribution methods of campaign materials certainly misrepresents Skyview, the Skyview table and Skyview students views and implies an endorsement of her by her using their table at Saturday Live.
This practice is dishonest and is misleading as it falsely leaves the impression that those involved endorse her. The collection of actions taken by Pam and her representatives are unethical as the entire approach is centered on the using of minor students and their school’s table as the vehicle to distribute campaign materials at a school fundraiser event. These actions violate section 13‐35‐301 (http://data.opi.mt.gov/bills/mca/13/35/13‐35‐301.htm) as her tactics are misleading and unethical.