Montana political practices commissioner expands 'dark money' investigation

2013-11-13T11:00:00Z 2014-10-03T14:27:44Z Montana political practices commissioner expands 'dark money' investigation missoulian.com

HELENA – Montana’s top political cop on Wednesday widened his investigation and enforcement of so-called “dark money” in state politics, filing 10 new or revised complaints against four 2010 legislative candidates and groups he says may have improperly helped their campaign.

Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl said the complaints stem from his October decision alleging several nonprofit groups and former state Rep. Dan Kennedy of Laurel broke campaign laws by not fully reporting their spending and donations in 2010.

Motl said it’s his “mandatory duty” under the law to examine all potential campaign violations, related to the evidence he has uncovered.

He also said Wednesday he plans to file additional complaints against other candidates who appear to have been involved with the same conservative-leaning groups in 2010.

Motl said he hopes the complaints will help clearly define what’s allowed and prohibited for the 2014 elections, regarding nonprofit groups that spend money to influence elections in Montana.

“These complaints moving through the process should provide some caution and instruction for 2014 candidates: Be careful when you’re dealing with nonprofit corporations that want to help you,” Motl said.

The groups, including the pro-development Western Tradition Partnership, used political mailers to attack various Montana legislative candidates in the 2010 primary election.

In most cases, the mailers blasted Republican candidates as being too moderate or promoted a challenger as the more conservative Republican.

In his October decision, Motl said the groups failed to properly report their spending or donors – thus, unidentified “dark money” – and appeared to make illegal corporate contributions and illegally coordinate their efforts with their favored candidate, who was Kennedy.

Wednesday’s complaints said he’ll look at similar accusations in four other 2010 legislative races: House District 84 near Helena, HD68 in Broadwater County, HD69 west of Bozeman, and HD61 in Park and Sweet Grass counties.

The complaints targeted three groups that sent the mailers – Western Tradition Partnership, the Assembly Action Fund and Montana Citizens for Right to Work – and four candidates who allegedly benefitted from the groups’ actions.

Three of those candidates lost in the primary election, but one, Rep. Mike Miller, R-Helmville, won in 2010 and is still a legislator, from HD84.

Miller said Wednesday evening he had just returned from out of town and hadn’t had time to review the complaint, and would comment later.

Attorneys or representatives of the accused groups also could not be reached for comment.

Rep. Ted Washburn, R-Bozeman – the target of the attack mailers in 2010 in the HD69 Republican primary – said Wednesday he’s glad Motl is pursuing the matter.

“There was a lot of dark money, a lot of mailers that went out just before the election,” Washburn said. “They were just vicious, ugly. … I think (this) will be a lesson to the people who are filing and running (for office) that they have to be factual and correct in what they send out.”

Washburn won his primary election in 2010 and has been re-elected twice since then.

Missoulian State Bureau reporter Mike Dennison can be reached at 1-800-525-4920 or by email at mike.dennison@lee.net.

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