March 20, 2019

Political Practices ruling and MSSA

Dear MSSA Friends,
Several months ago former Republican legislator from Billings, Don Roberts, filed a complaint with the Commissioner of Political Practices (COPP), claiming that the MSSA Political Action Committee had done a number of nefarious things that were in violation of Montana campaign finance laws.  That Complaint, if you can understand it, is at:
I responded to the Complaint with a letter posted here:
The various claims made by Roberts are restated in my Response, so it’s easier to understand this if you read through my Response.
You may hear in the news that the COPP has just released his Decision in this case, at:
The essence of the decision is that the COPP found MSSA violated campaign finance laws in two respects:
1.  When I filed the MSSA PAC with the COPP in 2014, two forms were filed on the same day.  On one form were listed the 18 candidates in who’s races the PAC would take a position.  The COPP holds that those 18 candidates should have been listed by names on BOTH forms filed, and to omit them on one form was a sneaky attempt to deprive the public of critical information.
2.  I have also maintained a separate, federal PAC, the MSSA Political Committee, which reports quarterly to the Federal Elections Commission.  We raise money for that federal PAC with small donations, mostly at precision rifle matches.  Federal rules require reporting of the name, address, occupation, and employer of donors who contribute $200 or more.  Those federal reports are done quarterly.  Then when money is spent (and also reported to COPP) on in-state political activities, the COPP says that it is necessary to report the name, address, occupation and employer for all donors to the federal PAC who contributed $35 or more.  While taking this position, the COPP also admits that there is nothing illegal about the federal PAC collecting unitemized donations between $35 and $199 and then donating that money to the state PAC in (reported) lump sums.  So, the COPP says that while doing nothing illegal, the state PAC is trying to do an end run around state reporting by funneling money through the federal PAC, which COPP holds is illegal even though he admits it is legal (go figure).
What may be more important is that the COPP fined my Democrat opponent two years ago $200 for failing to report nearly half of her campaign expenditures, while fining a Republican $50,000 for essentially the same offense.
So, I’m talking with attorneys and preparing to contend with this threat to our ability to prevent our political voice from being suppressed by strained or unequal application of the laws.
Curiously the first news about this COPP Decision (according to Google), an AP story, broke today in the Washington Times:
The media may try to spin this as, “Dark Money Gun Group Violates Campaign Laws.”  You know the rest of the story.
Stay tuned for more …
Best wishes,
Gary Marbut