HELENA – A last-minute flurry of attack mailers targeting Montana legislative candidates is prompting some formal complaints – and Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl ruled Thursday that the state Democratic Party may have violated the law on a flier in a Great Falls race.
But Motl said he has no power to rule whether the mailers’ content is false, and mostly is restricted to deciding whether advance-notice requirements are met.
Motl said Thursday the Democratic Party failed to notify Sen. Ed Buttrey, R-Great Falls, about its campaign mailer attacking him that was sent this week.
State law requires such notice if the mailer is sent within 10 days of the election.
Democratic Party spokesman Bryan Watt said the party used a commercial mail house to send the flier against Buttrey, and intended to send it before the 10-day period. Motl gave the party until Nov. 27 to provide proof of its intent.
Buttrey is being challenged by Democrat Vonnie Brown in one of several Senate races where Democrats believe they can pick up a seat, and narrow Republicans’ 29-21 margin in the Senate.
Also Thursday, Republican state Rep. Steve Gibson, R-East Helena, filed his own complaint with Motl, saying he, too, had been targeted by at a critical mailer from the state Democratic Party this week without being notified.
Gibson also denounced the mailers as misleading or false, regarding his record: “The majority of these (mailers) are distortions or contain lies about what the bills actually do or didn’t do.”
He pointed to one flier that accused him of voting to raise taxes on “working families” while giving “tax breaks to big corporations,” for his support of a 2013 bill that cut state income tax rates for all individuals and corporations.
The Democratic Party, however, stood by its mailers, noting that the bill, which was vetoed by Gov. Steve Bullock, also eliminated some income tax deductions that would end up raising taxes for some families.
“Their record speaks for itself,” said Watt. “We research everything that we say to make sure that it’s true.”
Gibson said he got notice from the Democratic Party on some of the fliers just before midnight Wednesday, the day before they showed up in mailboxes in his district. He’s being challenged by Democrat Mary Ann Dunwell of Helena.
The state Democratic Party has been sending mailers over the past few weeks, attacking Republican candidates in key legislative races.
The state Republican Legislative Campaign Committee also has sent mailers this month, going after Democrats in many of the same races.
Those fliers have accused Democratic candidates of being allied with “radical environmentalists” against natural resource jobs and with the policies of President Barack Obama, said Rep. Austin Knudsen, R-Culbertson, who chairs the GOP campaign committee.
Republicans have a 61-39 majority in the House and are expected to maintain their majority this election, although Democrats hope to reduce the gap.