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Dark money troubles but some good news

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I know Democrats aren’t perfect when it comes to campaign finances but it’s the Republicans who’ve really screwed up this campaign cycle.

The biggest: the StopSetEmFreeSandefur.com Committee. It’s pretty obvious that the Stop group obscured its funding source for its attack ads targeting Judge Dirk Sandefur in the race for the Montana Supreme Court. Neither of the two similarly named committees said to be funding the ads purchased by Stop reported their contributions.

Commissioner of Political Practices Jon Motl had this to say:

“It seems clear that there is a blatant campaign practice failure-to-report violation by a Montana political committee,” Motl wrote in his ruling. He added the violation of state law “would mean that the Montana public has been deprived of knowing the source of funds and the confirming amount of cash and in-kind expenditures.”

One of the principals in the Stop committee is a name you might be familiar with, Jake Eaton. As Don Pogreba says in a Tweet, “I’m shocked to learn that Jake Eaton is at the center of another sleazy scheme to undermine MT elections. Shocked!” Here’s a little background on Eaton.

Closer to home, Missoula County Republicans haven’t filed any campaign reports for months, despite having spent $7,700 on local legislative races. State Sen. Dick Barrett did a little digging and these are his findings. An excerpt:

Since the beginning of the year, when they started out with zero in the bank, they report that they have had no expenditures – not one penny – even though the (Republican legislative) candidates claim they got that total of $7,700.

According to their last report, they have $20,316.19 in the bank, all of which they say they took in during January and February. But again, contrary to the law, they provide absolutely zero information about where that money came from.

Barrett states that this could be simple negligence but since HD-96 candidate Adam Hertz is one of the party’s executive officers, you’d think they’d be a bit more aware of campaign finance rules.

But there is some good news. U.S District Court Judge Dana Christensen has ruled that Montana’s new campaign disclosure laws can stay — at least for now. There are two other challenges to the law pending in state and federal court.

Called the Disclose Act, it was passed by the Montana Legislature in 2015, and requires more detailed reporting and additional deadlines for political committees.

(AP reporter Matt Volz notes that the lead attorney for Montanans for Community Development, the committee that challenged the disclosure laws, is Anita Milanovich. She’s also Gianforte’s campaign attorney.)

Anyway, it’s a step in the right direction until Citizens United can be overturned.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

About the author

Pete Talbot

'Papa’ Pete Talbot is first and foremost a grandfather to five wonderful grandchildren. Like many Montanans, he has held numerous jobs over the years: film and video producer, a partner in a marketing and advertising firm, a builder and a property manager. He’s served on local and statewide Democratic Party boards. Pete has also been blogging at various sites for over a decade. Ping-pong and skiing are his favorite diversions. He enjoys bourbon.

6 Comments

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  • How about Tester’s waffling on whether to give the DSCC dirty money back to that Boston law firm?

    Tester already gave his dirty money back…why can’t he allow the organization he heads to give its dirty money back?

    • I could use a link concerning Tester’s waffling on DSCC “dirty money” contributions, Greg, but you’re missing the big picture. This is a post about transparency, disclosure and scuttling Citizens United — all the things that Tester advocates.

        • Geez, I don’t know, Greg, maybe the same reason Zinke takes money from California, Gianforte takes money from New York and Daines takes money from Virginia. Again, you’re missing the big picture: get rid of Citizens United and McCutcheon, and get big money out of our electoral system and you won’t have to ask these questions.

            • Think about it, Greg. I suppose the Democrats could refuse all PAC money and not win any races. At least, at this point, the Democrats I’m familiar with are opposed to Citizens United and would work to overturn it — the Republicans, not so much.

              There are ways to do it: a constitutional amendment or a new Supreme Court ruling. The more likely scenario is a bottom up campaign starting at state and local levels. The recent Montana Legislature’s Disclose Act is an example of chipping away at Citizens United.

              Here’s a relevant article in the Atlantic on challenging Citizens United:

              http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/04/how-to-reverse-citizens-united/471504/

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