Committee Fails to Block New Campaign Rules

Commissioner of Political Practices says his office plans to adopt the rules later this week or early next week

By Matt Volz, Associated Press

HELENA — New campaign rules requiring more transparency from Montana candidates and organizations that seek to influence elections will be adopted after a legislative committee failed to muster enough votes Tuesday to delay them for a second time.

The regulations will be adopted by Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl later this week or early next week after a final review, Motl said.

They will become effective once they are published by the Montana Secretary of State, which will likely happen in February, and they will apply to the 2016 primary elections in June.

“This is the greatest step for transparency that the state of Montana could have taken,” Motl said.

The regulations will require more financial reporting by candidates and organizations, tighten restrictions on candidate coordination and require same-day electronic reporting of contributions.

Opponents argued that the rules are vague, confusing and give the commissioner too much discretion in deciding whether to pursue allegations of campaign violations.

“You’ll all live with the results of this committee’s vote in the next election,” said Sen. Dee Brown, R-Hungry Horse, after the State Administrative and Veterans Affairs Committee rejected delaying the rules’ adoption.

The committee first voted to object to the rules in August. That meant Motl could not adopt them until the panel took the matter up again Tuesday.

They attempted to renew that objection on Tuesday, which would have further held up the rules. The attempt failed on a 4-4 vote along party lines, with Democratic members voting against the delay and Republican members voting for it.

The Democratic members of the panel voted against the rules in August after representatives from two unions and the Montana Trial Lawyers Association spoke against them. They objected to a requirement that would have forced those organizations to report all their donations if the commissioner decided one of their primary purposes was involvement in elections.

After a public comment period, Motl rewrote that section and several others. That satisfied the Democrats, giving them enough votes to block the delay.

Twenty-three Republican legislators who oppose to the rules have requested a poll of all 150 state lawmakers to determine whether they comply with the intent of the Legislature’s bill, called the Disclose Act.

Those legislators believe Motl’s rules are an unconstitutional rewrite of the act and exceed his authority. Two of them, Rep. Nancy Balance, R-Hamilton, and Rep. Kerry White, R-Bozeman, spoke against the rules again Tuesday.

“We’re a citizen legislature, not a bunch of attorneys writing rules,” White said. “It’s wrong.”

The poll will ask lawmakers whether they believe the rulers follow the bill’s intent. The results will not change the rules or significantly delay their implementation, but they could be used as evidence in court if a lawsuit is filed to block the rules.

Motl dismissed the campaign finance poll, saying the rules followed the intent of the bill.

“It’s political maneuvering,” Motl said. “These 23 people who signed on were adamantly opposed to the Disclose Act and have vehemently opposed (the rules) ever since.”

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