Lisa Triepke campaign surrogate Wes Spiker goes off script 

A Sept. 13 Missoulian guest column endorsing mayoral challenger Lisa Triepke seemed designed to prick nerves. Author Wes Spiker took aim at a dozen Missoula issues—entitled bicyclists, freeloading transients, whiny environmentalists, etc.that he claimed to be "tired of." Spiker introduced himself as a business owner, then railed against taxes, housing costs, Royce Engstrom's salary and the rebuttals he expected to receive for voicing an opinion out of step with the "Keep Missoula weird" crowd. Then he urged support for Triepke.

Spiker's column made a splash on social media, where the usual array of progressive tastemakers decried its disdainful tone. Meanwhile, Spiker says, he received 27 phone calls from Missoulians thanking him for "the most courageous act" they'd ever seen in the newspaper and dozens of "thumbs up" gestures sent his way at last week's Griz game against Savannah State. He couldn't be happier with the reaction, he says, which has drawn attention to the underdog campaign he supports.

It's also a campaign Spiker gets paid to support. Spiker owns marketing agency Spiker Communications, and though the fact wasn't disclosed in his column, the agency has been paid $10,923 as of July 25 for work with the Triepke campaign, according to previously reported state campaign finance disclosures.

Spiker says he's doing nothing unorthodox, pointing to a mudslinging letter published in 2014 by then-sheriff candidate T.J. McDermott's campaign manager, Jim Parker, that didn't disclose Parker's position. But Spiker's role in the Triepke campaign is more ambiguous. He and the candidate have insisted the agency's work is limited to graphic design and ad buys, despite evidence suggesting a central role.

Triepke says she didn't ask or pay Spiker to write the column and didn't see it before publication, though she and campaign volunteers have asked other business owners to write letters of support. That effort has so far been unsuccessful because, they say, Triepke's supporters fear retribution from the mayor's office.

"I just thought he raised some really good points," Triepke says of Spiker's column. "He is the first business owner, whether he is helping us or not, that has risked his reputation and his business income to stand up and speak his voice."

click to enlarge Mayoral candidate Lisa Triepke on campaign strategist and op-ed writer Wes Spiker: “I just thought he raised some really good points.” - PHOTO COURTESY TRIEPKE4MAYOR
  • photo courtesy Triepke4mayor
  • Mayoral candidate Lisa Triepke on campaign strategist and op-ed writer Wes Spiker: “I just thought he raised some really good points.”

After the column was published, state Rep. Ellie Hill Smith posted to Facebook asking Missoulians to "decide if you want to do business with Spiker Communications." Spiker laughs off the backlash, saying he doesn't do much business locally.

"I know who my market was. That's my business. I'm not trying to speak to Ellie Hill and her minions of folks who get fired up..." he says.

Spiker goes on to say he believes that a "great silent majority" in Missoula is ready to deal a blow to "progressives" led by three-term incumbent mayor John Engen. He channels Trump-style rhetoric in elaborating on the things he's tired of—especially transients, whom he distinguishes from "homeless" people.

"Transients don't do anything except kill each other and rape people and scare the hell out of people from having their kids go to school here," he says.

While Spiker complains of services for transients, Triepke sketches a more measured position, saying she's willing to spend taxpayer funds to address homelessness in the city.

Spiker is no rogue contractor. He and another Spiker staffer are two of the nine people on Triepke's volunteer leadership team. Financial disclosures list Spiker Communications as having billed the campaign only for "advertising," which Triepke specifies as logo design and promotional materials such as yard signs. Spiker acknowledges that one of his staffers handles social media, because "that's where this war is being fought."

In fact, media inquiries to the Triepke campaign are routed through a Spiker email address, and the agency sent out two campaign press releases in August. Asked if his firm is paid for consulting services, such as campaign strategy, Spiker initially replied, "Oh, God, no. No, no, not at all." The Indy later requested to review campaign invoices. Spiker declined to provide copies, but did email a list of services the firm has billed Triepke for, including "campaign strategy."

Therein may lie another parallel with the McDermott campaign. Following a complaint by his opponent, McDermott was fined for three campaign finance violations. One involved an $11,105 payment to Westridge Creative, the firm owned by McDermott's campaign manager, Jim Parker. The campaign claimed the expense was for yard signs and campaign cards, but a review of the invoice by the Commissioner of Political Practices discovered additional expenses for "campaign project management."

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