Detective Sgt. T.J. McDermott has been Missoula's sheriff-elect for nearly three months. In a Democratic primary marred by internal departmental strife, McDermott scored a nearly 3,000-vote victory over his closest challenger, Undersheriff Josh Clark. And with no Republican running on the November ballot, the tense back-and-forth that came to characterize the race this spring appeared to be a thing of the past.
But like a boxer after the bell, Clark kept swinging last week when he filed a formal complaint against McDermott with the Montana commissioner of political practices. Among his allegations were a failure on McDermott's part to disclose in-kind donations by Missoula law firm Datsopoulos, MacDonald and Lind, including use of the firm's phone system, use of the corporate offices and the hosting of a May 8 meet and greet. Clark's complaint went on to emphasize that direct corporate contributions are expressly prohibited under Montana's Corrupt Practices Act.
McDermott wasn't the only candidate courting donors under a law firm's roof. According to an email invite and Facebook event posting, Clark's campaign hosted a meet-and-greet of its own March 26 at Garlington, Lohn and Robinson. Clark's disclosure forms show his campaign did pay for the food and drink, but do not list any reimbursement for or donation of the actual office space used to house the event.
Clark told the Indy this week that he's preparing an amended filing to rectify the issue. In it , he'll claim use of the space as an in kind dontation from his wife, a Garlington employee.
McDermott's campaign manager, Jim Parker, released a statement in response to Clark's allegations claiming the campaign had never taken donations from any corporations—the law firm included. The campaign is still studying the allegations and plans to respond in full to Commissioner Jonathan Motl and the public. If McDermott did violate any reporting provisions, he could be on the hook for a fine of $500 or three times the amount of the unlawful contributions, whichever is greater.
It will likely take Motl a couple months to reach a decision. Hopefully that will be the end of it. Truth and accountability are critical in the electoral process, but they're also going to be important elements in fixing whatever the hell is going on inside the sheriff's department. That's one mission we can all agree shouldn't revolve around winners and losers.