While American Partnership Tradition is doing its best to destroy political accountability in Montana, the state still does have strict restrictions on the reporting of individual contributions to political campaigns. Montana’s rules about these donations are quite clear: when a person reaches an aggregate total of $35 dollars in donations to a campaign, that amount must be reported.
Even a cursory examination of Corey Stapleton’s last campaign finance report makes it obvious that his campaign is circumventing those laws. Compared to other candidates, he’s been raising an enormous amount of money from “pass the hat” donations at political events across the state, far more than any other candidate—and enough to make the amounts quite suspect.
He reported the following contributions as “pass the hat”:
- Cardinal Oil and Gas Fundraiser $2,400, from approximately 80 attendees. ( A convenient $30/person)
- Macaroni Grill $3,120, from approximately 100 attendees (A convenient and entirely implausible $31.20 per attendee)
- Transtech Fundraiser $4,600 from 150 attendees (A surprisingly consistent $30.66 per attendee)
- Farmers Union $525 from 20 attendees
- Miles City Country Club—$1,015 from 25 attendees (an over-the-limit average of $40.60 per attendee)
There are a number of things about those numbers that simply don’t pass the laugh test. That any candidate would get almost every person attending a political event to contribute almost $30 per person is laughable. A lot of people go simply because they are interested—or even on the other side. I asked people involved with campaigns for both Democrats and Republicans if number like those Stapleton was reporting were even possible and the unanimous response was that these numbers are never seen in pass the hat contributions.
What does a typical “pass the hat” donation look like? From Rick Hill’s finance report, we get numbers like $120 from 32 people or $173.00 from 40 people. From Ken Miller’s report, we get numbers like $50 at a Christmas party with 30 guests and $221.00 at a Meet and Greet with 200 people.
If we are to believe the Stapleton campaign, despite badly trailing in the polls, he is able to get nearly 100% of the people who attend his events to donate, something no other candidate is capable of.
It also strains credibility to believe that the “pass the hat” amounts were so routinely near, but not over the individual reporting limit.
Finally, the Stapleton campaign has an obligation to ensure that individuals aren’t using “pass the hat” donations to circumvent campaign finance laws in Montana.The Commissioner of Political Practice has ruled on “pass the hat” donations before, including the dispute between Ron Tussing and Al Garver in the Billings mayoral race of 2005:
Clearly cash contributions made during mass collections or
“pass the hat” events meet the statutory definition of the term “contribution,” and are
therefore not excluded from the “aggregate contributions” referred to in § 13-37-216,
Candidates may not accept contributions in excess of the limitations in the statute.
§ 13-37-216(4), MCA. Candidates therefore have an obligation to employ whatever
means are necessary to ensure that any contributions they receive do not exceed the
statutory limitations. This may well require monitoring contributions received during
mass collections or pass the hat events and instructing potential contributors that any such ontributions of less than $35 are part of the aggregate contributions that are limited by § 13-37-216, MCA.
Clean and transparent fundraising is critical to maintain the integrity of Montana’s elections. It seems quite clear that Corey Stapleton believes otherwise.