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Montana Official Says GOP Violated Campaign Finance Law

Ballots for the Republican, Democratic and Green parties during the 2020 primary election in Montana.
Yellowstone Public Radio
Ballots for the Republican, Democratic and Green parties during the 2020 primary election in Montana.

The state’s top campaign rules enforcer found the Montana Republican Party and two other groups violated state law. The violations came in a successful attempt to place the Green Party on this year’s primary ballot.

State Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan wrote in his Thursday decision that the Montana GOP failed to accurately report the date and distribution of a $100,000 contribution to Texas-based firm Advanced Micro Targeting.

The company used the money to fund signature gathering in January and February to qualify Green Party candidates for this year’s primary election. The Montana Green Party has rejected involvement in the process and doesn’t endorse candidates running under their banner in this election cycle.

The Montana Democratic Party filed the March complaint that spurred Mangen’s findings. Executive Director Sandi Luckey says the action was taken in support of transparency.

"Montana voters have a right to fair and honest information so that they can make the best decisions for themselves. It’s about defending the integrity of our elections from fraudulent efforts, like this one that was funded by the Montana Republican Party," Luckey says.

Some political observers believe the appearance of Green Party candidates on the ballot could draw votes from Democrats.

The state GOP acknowledged making the $100,000 payment but not before the Green Party qualified for this year’s primary ballot. In a statement, Montana Republican Party Executive Director Spenser Merwin disagreed with Mangen’s findings and wrote that all of the party’s campaign finance disclosures followed the law.

The Montana Republican Party made the contribution through a group called Montanans for Conservation, which initially registered as an independent committee in January. Mangan found the group violated campaign finance law by failing to register as a minor party qualification committee in time and that a third related group failed to report finance records under the required timeframe.

In 2019, lawmakers passed minor party qualification committee regulations after another successful signature-gathering effort by the same Texas-based company to qualify the Green Party for the 2018 ballot.

A Montana Democratic Party lawsuit resulted in a judge disqualifying the Green Party from the 2018 cycle. State Democrats again filed a lawsuit June 1 seeking to remove Green Party candidates from the 2020 general election ballot.