Editor's note: A group named in the complaint responded to YPR's request for comment Monday night. This story was updated to reflect the emailed response.
The group promoting a tobacco tax increase filed a complaint today with Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices that alleged opponents of their proposed ballot initiative are engaged in illegal campaign activities.
Tara Veazey, campaign manager for the Healthy Montana Initiative, said several people reported they received automated telephone calls. She said these “robocalls” offered people $100 to participate in a focus group about the cigarette tax.
Veazy said she called the number that was given out.
"I was surprised someone answered," she said. "The person at the other end of the line politely said that focus groups had already happened in Montana."
Veazy said her group wants to know who paid for the calls, the focus groups, and any other outreach that may be taking place in Montana.
"We just want to make sure that I-185 is put before the voters without influence from out-of-state, multi-billion dollar corporations or anyone else attempting to influence the election without properly disclosing who they are," she said.
I-185 seeks to raise the state tobacco tax to fund services for veterans, seniors and the disabled. The money collected could also be used to fund Montana’s Medicaid expansion, which is set to end June 30, 2019 unless the Montana Legislature votes to continue the program.
The complaint names Decision Point Consulting, Montanans Against Tax Hikes (MATH), and "John Does 1-10." Chuck Denowh, a spokesman for MATH, said he was still reviewing that complaint and did not have an immediate comment.
Monday night, Denowh emailed this statement to YPR:
“As evidenced by their immediate issuance of a press release about their meritless allegations, this complaint is little more than a political ploy,” he said. “While the proposed initiative has yet to even qualify for the ballot, Healthy Montanans is abusing the complaint process for political purposes to distract voters from their deeply flawed proposed initiative—and wasting taxpayer dollars in the process. Montanans Against Higher Taxes has--and will continue to--comply with Montana’s campaign finance laws.”
Signatures are currently being gathered to try to place I-185 on the November general election ballot