HELENA — Montana's chief political watchdog has ruled that a state Republican Party campaign committee failed to comply with an earlier ruling requiring it to provide better detail about electioneering activities in last fall's legislative elections.

In an unrelated ruling also made public on Tuesday, Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan also dismissed a complaint accusing a group opposing the campaign of now-Associate Supreme Court Justice Dirk Sandefur of improperly reporting and disclosing campaign contributions. While the commissioner found no violations, he chided the group for its combative posture when an investigation was opened last October.

In his findings against the state Republican Party, Mangan noted that an earlier ruling made by his predecessor would have been dismissed if the party had updated its campaign spending reports as ordered.

The original ruling stems from a complaint filed by the Montana Democratic Party in September accusing Republicans of not properly detailing their spending on various legislative races.

Previous commissioner Jonathan Motl ruled in October that the Republican Party was required to more specifically describe how $25,600 in party funds were used on behalf of candidates, as listed on five campaign reports submitted last year.

After the GOP failed to immediately comply, Democrats filed another complaint in December.

Rep. Kirk Wagoner of Montana City, who serves as the treasurer for the Montana Republican Legislative Campaign Committee, said the party would reserve comment until it had time to review Mangan's ruling.

Democrats, however, seized on the ruling as an example of "dark money" entering Republican campaigns.

In his findings last year, Motl said Republicans should have been more transparent in listing the purposes of the expenditures and that describing spending as "consulting" was too generic. State law requires that expenses be "itemized and described in sufficient detail to disclose the specific services performed."

In his ruling, Motl gave the party an opportunity to amend its report. However, the party did not avail itself of that opportunity.

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