Montana Ethics Chief Finds Violation in ’08 Attorney General Campaign

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Montana’s commissioner of political practices has found that a group violated state campaign laws in the 2008 Republican primary for attorney general by using robocalls that did not disclose its treasurer was a Great Falls attorney and big Democratic donor.

Commissioner Jennifer Hensley ruled last month that Citizens for Strong Law Enforcement should be penalized for thousands of automated phone calls to voters that advocated for GOP candidate Lee Bruner over the eventual nominee, Tim Fox, without making that disclosure and without providing Fox with transcripts of the calls.

Fox defeated Bruner in the GOP primary and lost to Democrat Steve Bullock in the general election.

Hensley’s findings were in response to a complaint that Boland’s group made 88,400 automated calls at a cost of more than $6,400 promoting Bruner as a “genuine conservative” and blasting Fox as an attorney with little court experience who represented criminals and drunken drivers.

Boland has given thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates, parties and groups for more than a decade, according to Federal Election Commission statistics.

Hensley said the calls broke Montana’s Clean Campaign Act that requires election materials not to be anonymous, and specifically include the name of the committee treasurer.

A message left at a number listed under Boland’s name was not immediately returned on Tuesday. In his response to Hensley, Boland said he believed the state law applied to campaign material used in print and broadcast media but not automated telephone calls.

Hensley said although the law does not specifically mention automated telephone calls, the intent of the Legislature was to apply the statute to virtually all forms of political advertising.

Hensley’s office turned the findings over to Cascade County prosecutors on Feb. 3, with a recommendation they pursue a civil penalty against Boland.

Political practices program supervisor Mary Baker said county prosecutors have not yet responded. If they do not answer within 30 days of the findings, then Hensley’s office will negotiate a civil penalty with Boland, which usually comes as a fine.

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