Politics in Whitefish have become increasingly tangled this year, as one group after another, with various degrees of affiliation, has formed with the intention of influencing the local political process.
Last week, the Independent published a story in which Quality Whitefish, a Montana Political Action Committee that registered with the state on Oct. 26, was said to oppose “the incumbent council members and the proposed Critical Areas Ordinance.”
Two other groups, Sensible Land Use and the Commission for Fair Land Use and Government have opposed the ordinance and recent Council decisions, respectively, but have not raised money or supported candidates, allowing them to avoid state reporting requirements. By registering as a PAC, Quality Whitefish can raise money and support candidates, but official forms filed with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices for Quality Whitefish state the group neither supports nor opposes any candidates or issues.
Ads placed in the Whitefish Pilot by Quality Whitefish read, in part, “WANTED: A Qualified City Council. Qualifications sought: Individuals that are good stewards of YOUR tax dollars.”
Dennis G. Konopatzke, the executive director of Quality Whitefish, says the group aims “to improve the dialogue in the community.”
On the same day that Quality Whitefish registered with the state, another group loosely tied to Konopatzke—Common Sense in Whitefish Government (CSWG)—also registered. This group will take advantage of its ability to support candidates and raise money. CSWG supports mayoral candidate Mike Jenson, and council candidates Turner Askew, Martin McGrew, John Murdock and Kent Taylor.
The only officer identified by the group is Rick Blake, its treasurer. But pages of the official reporting forms for both CSWG and Quality Whitefish have fax information for Konopatzke’s company, Woodtech, on them. Konopatzke insists the groups are not affiliated, although he describes Blake as a friend of his who has “been supportive of Quality Whitefish.”
“What I told Rick is that if you go out and [endorse candidates] you need to register,” says Konopatzke. “I am an attorney, and I am familiar with that process, and so I said I would do that for Rick to make sure that it was done correctly.”