The Montana Federation of Republican Women has been around since 1938. Currently there are about 500 members spread across 13 clubs in the state.
The Federation has run into problems, however…and the group is blaming its own.
The main player in this drama is Vondene Hopkins-Kopetski.
Some of you might know that she’s the head of the Missoula Republicans, as well as the mother of Mike Hopkins…a two-term legislator that just managed to hang onto his seat for another term, winning a recount by 2 votes. Mike is also the treasurer for the Montana GOP.
I’ve met both Mike and Vondene a few times. They’re nice people and I have no qualms with them. The tip-off for this story came from an anonymous emailer in Butte.
I do have a moral duty to report the truth. Here’s how I see it:
For many, many years, Vondene was president of the Federation, or what we pretty much call the Missoula GOP.
But nothing lasts forever.
In January 2017, Sarah Weber took over as president of the Federation. Three months later she “asked the elected treasurer Jill Chapman to resign because she was not attending meetings and had not produced financial reports.”
Vondene said Weber "did not have the authority to remove an elected officer without board approval."
So Weber tells Vondene she’ll hold a meeting…but she never tells Vondene or Chapman about it. Instead, Weber holds a secret meeting with just enough board members to get their vote through.
Weber has 4 board members on here side, while Vondene has 3.
Both Vondene and Chapman felt scorned by this shunning, and – hearing that the meeting was taking place without them – Chapman went to the bank where the Federation kept its money and took out the $1,200 that was there.
And this is where the legal matters come into play.
Shortly after the funds were withdrawn, Vondene and Chapman were “expelled from the Federation as a result of serious misconduct.”
The big reason for this was that, even after consulting the sheriff’s department, Vondene and/or Chapman decided to put the GOP’s money into a trust account.
“Following multiple cease and desist letters and demands that the club’s property be returned,” the Missoulian reported, “the local organization and the state parent company filed a lawsuit against the former members.”
The Missoula County Republican Women brought legal action because of this, saying that despite “multiple formal and informal warnings urging them to correct their most serious transgressions,” the two women “continued to unlawfully retain possession of the club’s funds and obstruct the club’s ability to conduct business in accordance with the law.”
And that’s why we have the Montana Federation of Republican Women vs. Vondene Hopkins-Kopetski in the Montana Fourth Judicial District Court.
The lawsuit is 160 pages long.
The first hearing is scheduled for Monday, July 9th here in Missoula. The issue is fraud.
The summary of the suit is that “plaintiffs allege that Defendant Kopetski has acted with malice towards the organization and its duly-elected officers. Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Kopetski has acted with fraud towards the organization’s membership and towards the community.”
For the most part, Vondene has been able to stay out of the spotlight.
Sure, there was her pointing out of Engen’s illegal campaign contributions in 2015, but nothing compares to this.
I really don’t know who to believe in this she-said, she-said legal battle.
$1,200 isn’t that much money…and I’m sure that ten times that has already been spent on lawyers. When you factor in the time spent by our judges and police and court employees and all the rest of it, this incident has cost taxpayers thousands of dollars already and will only cost more.
Is this the kind of fiscal conservatism that the Missoula GOP is always talking about? This is a big problem with the GOP, both nationally and at the local level: many of their ideas actually cost money instead of saving it.
It was clear with the last federal budget vote that the GOP is no longer the fiscally conservative party.
Just like the Dems, the GOP is a big part of the problem.
For years, Vondene was head of the Missoula GOP…then suddenly she was not. She continued to play the role however – even showing up at events with a name tag claiming she was still president.
Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
We’ll begin to find out more about this corruption drama on Monday.
Kato, Dillon. “Lawsuit exposes ‘scorched earth’ battle in Missoula County’s Republican ranks.” Missoulian. 11 August 2017. https://missoulian.com/news/local/lawsuit-exposes-scorched-earth-battle-in-missoula-county-s-republican/article_5d96b906-99fd-5612-8b48-409e6e0e26df.html
King, Jon. “Political Practices Commissioner Asked to Investigate Possible ‘Pay to Play’ Relationship Between Mayor Engen, WGM Group.” News Talk KGVO. 2 October 2015. http://newstalkkgvo.com/political-practices-commissioner-asked-to-investigate-possible-pay-to-play-relationship-between-mayor-engen-wgm-group/
“Montana Federation of Republican Women, Missoula County Republican Women vs. Vondene Hopkins Kopetski and Jill W. Chapman.” Legal Brief. 7 August 2017. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-oM0aN7P1MAUmxnTFZtQmwxMnc/view
“Republican Women File Lawsuit Against Two Former Members.” Montana Federation of Republican Women. 7 August 2017. http://mtfrw.org/integrity-fund