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A series of political attack ads, like this one for Ward 2, for the Missoula City Council election were mailed to Missoula voters Monday, funded by a group of wealthy local business owners.

The Oct. 30 guest column written by Karen Wickersham, chair of the Missoula County Democrats, reeks of hypocrisy.

Wickersham claims to be shocked at the “negative tone and deceptive tactics” of mailers that oppose some Missoula City Council candidates and support other Missoula City Council candidates.

Where was the Democratic Party during the 2018 election? They were sending out mailers with a negative tone and false accusations. In the local Missoula County election for House District 96, which encompasses a portion of Ward 2 and is similar in population size to several city of Missoula wards, the Democratic Party sent out at least three separate mailers with a negative tone and false accusations against the Republican incumbent. Unlike the local candidates that Wickersham admits are not responsible for the recent mailers, the Democratic Party paid for and distributed the mailers in the 2018 election.

Wickersham states in her column, “(Political action committees) can legally donate unlimited dollars to candidates; more than an individual donor.” That is not true. The Montana Commissioner of Political Practices website says PACs and individuals are each limited by Montana law to a $180 direct contribution to a local candidate per election. 

Wickersham calls the Missoulians for Missoula PAC less than transparent and a secret PAC with out-of-town ties; however, you can find their complete campaign finance report, which lists all of their donors, on the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices website. Every contributor to the Missoulians for Missoula PAC resides in Missoula County.

An examination of their campaign finance reports shows why they have a Helena address. They are paying a Helena consulting firm, Burnt Timber Consulting LLC, for bookkeeping services. According to the Montana Secretary of State website, Burnt Timber Consulting is registered to Katie Wenetta, who is serving as the treasurer of the PAC.

Wickersham says that Katie Wenetta, the treasurer of the Missoulians for Missoula PAC, is a “recognized Republican.” Campaign finance reports for three current Missoula City Council candidates — Alex Fregerio, Gwen Jones and Mirtha Becerra, all endorsed by the Democratic Party — show they are each paying former Missoula County Auditor Barbara Berens, a “recognized Democrat,” for bookkeeping and reporting services, and Berens is serving as the treasurer for each of their campaigns.

Wickersham conveniently left out the fact that a dark money PAC is also currently involved in Missoula’s City Council race. That PAC, the Montana Conservation Voters, is supporting the same candidates endorsed by the Democrats. A review of their campaign finance report shows they are largely funded by the national League of Conservation Voters, receiving $38,000 from that national PAC. Their campaign finance report shows no one from Missoula County contributing to their PAC and only one Montana resident: Dan Weinberg, of Whitefish who contributed $10,000, considerably more than any individual contribution to Missoulians for Missoula.

The Montana Conservation Voters involvement in Missoula’s city election is a classic example of dark money and lack of transparency. The campaign finance report form the Montana Conservation Voters does not identify or associate any actual donors to the $38,000 they received from the national League of Conservation Voters.

This is not meant as support or opposition for any candidate. I just call out hypocrisy when I see it. Please read the various candidate questionnaires available online, do some independent research and decide for yourself who best represents your interests and values, but by all means, be wary of any organization that points fingers for the same practices and tactics that they have used in the past.

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Keith Koprivica has resided in Missoula for over 40 years and holds a journalism degree from the University of Montana.

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