The Montana commissioner of political practices has found Missoula businessman John Suprock in violation of the state’s campaign finance and practices laws and rules – and fined him $100.
A settlement was reached last week in a case set in motion nine months ago by Scott Bixler, a former Missoula County Public Schools board member.
The matter concerns a newspaper advertisement Suprock paid for in March that offered a campaign contribution of up to $10,000, which he called a “reward,” to candidates interested in unseating four MCPS trustees he identified by name and who were up for re-election, including Bixler.
Outraged that someone would try to “buy” the election, Bixler alerted the commissioner’s office.
The commissioner responded by contacting Suprock, who then changed the wording for successive ads that ran during the election.
Bixler took the next step and filed a formal complaint with the commissioner of political practices, focusing on the original ad’s lack of full “paid for by” disclosure.
In the end, Commissioner Jonathan Motl agreed with Bixler’s complaint and found Suprock in violation of Montana Code Annotated 13-35-225, wherein election materials may not to be anonymous.
“This ends the matter for the people of Montana,” Motl said on Tuesday. “Mr. Suprock admitted he did wrong and is paying a fine and owes society a debt for what happened.”
Suprock’s debt is a civil fine of $100 paid by check to the commissioner’s office.
“The lesson is that in the future, people should not engage in this type of activity,” Motl said.
Of the many complaints that come before him, Motl said the case of Bixler v. Suprock was unique.
In his complaint, Bixler protested that Suprock was in violation of the nominations statute, in which “a person may not pay or promise valuable consideration to another, in any manner or form, for the purpose of inducing the other person to be or to refrain from or to cease being a candidate, and a person my not solicit or receive any payment or promise from another for that purpose.”
Although there was not enough evidence to find Suprock violated the statue, Motl said, “nevertheless, it warranted a good look.”
“There was social good that came out of the complaint filed by Mr. Bixler,” Motl said. “We owe Mr. Bixler a debt of gratitude for filing the complaint and a debt of gratitude to Mr. Suprock who was open and honest enough to admit his mistake and pay his social debt.”
Bixler said he is pleased his complaint was settled.
“I’m really happy,” Bixler said. “Mr. Suprock took responsibility for his actions.”
Although $100 is not a large fine, Bixler said the settlement addresses a much larger issue.
“The size of the fine doesn’t really matter – it’s the principle of the thing,” he said. “Campaign finance law is to preserve and protect the soul of democracy.
“The laws are there to keep people who aren’t willing to serve the public, who are not willing to be a candidate but who have a lot of money to spend from subverting the democratic process by using their money.”
When reached for comment by email, Suprock did not have a lot to say about the settlement.
Suprock implied that he wasn’t through getting involved with elections or local issues, and was interested in MCPS Superintendent Alex Apostle and Missoula Mayor John Engen.
Suprock wrote: “I guess my quote would be I’m looking at Alex or Engen next.”