Montana GOP Claims AG Misconduct in Closed Primary Lawsuit

GOP alleges AG violated a code of conduct

By Molly Priddy

HELENA — The Montana Republican Party filed a motion accusing the state attorney general’s office of misconduct related to the party’s lawsuit to close primary elections.

The GOP seeks to remove Deputy Attorney General Jon Bennion, a Republican, from the case and wants any documents related to a phone call between him and party executive director Chris Shipp.

Court documents filed Tuesday claim Bennion violated a code of conduct by calling Shipp in June and asking him about matters related to the case without first notifying the party’s attorney. Specifically, Bennion asked how the party generates voter mailing lists and identifies members, documents said.

“It’s a problem because an attorney contacted a represented party,” said Republican Party attorney Jim Brown. “It’s certainly nothing personal.”

Attorney general spokesman John Barnes said the office will file an appeal denying the allegation and that the conversation included no mention of the lawsuit calling for primaries in which voters can only cast ballots for candidates in their own party.

“As is demonstrated in the deposition attached to plaintiffs’ motion, Jon Bennion is active in Republican politics and regularly has conversations with employees and officials of the Montana Republican Party, including Mr. Shipp,” Barnes said in an email.

Republican legislator and Bozeman attorney Matthew Monforton filed the lawsuit over primary elections in U.S. District Court in 2014. It now includes 10 Republican Central Committees and the state Republican party.

It asks a federal judge to strike down as unconstitutional Montana laws allowing registered voters to participate in any party primary.

Republicans have said closed primaries are needed because people not in their party have been voting in GOP primaries and influencing election outcomes for years. Monforton has said he has evidence to back up those claims and he’s hoping for a hearing on the case by the end of the year.

Democratic Secretary of State Linda McCulloch said previously she supports open primaries and that closing them would leave unaffiliated voters out of the primary elections process.


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