Commissioner: Whitefish Candidate, Dark Money Groups Broke Campaign Laws

Report outlines ‘illegal coordination’ by Rollan Roberts II in 2012 primary race against Kalispell’s Bruce Tutvedt

By Tristan Scott
Sen. Bruce Tutvedt addresses members of the Senate during the 64th Montana Legislative Session in Helena on April 23, 2015. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

A Whitefish candidate and a network of conservative “dark money” groups broke campaign laws in an effort to unseat state Sen. Bruce Tutvedt of Kalispell during a high-profile 2012 GOP primary race, the state Commissioner of Political Practices ruled Friday.

Commissioner Jonathan Motl released a 30-page decision on Friday, detailing how the groups illegally coordinated with Rollan Roberts II, a political newcomer running his campaign out of Whitefish. Roberts narrowly lost his primary challenge to Tutvedt, and then wrote about the near-conquest in his book, “90 Day Race: The Secret to Massive Results.”

Motl said he expects to file a civil case in Lewis and Clark District Court seeking civil fines and other penalties against Roberts.

Roberts could not immediately be reached for comment.

The report is the latest in a spate of rulings by Motl stemming from the 2010 and 2012 activities of a network of conservative groups that aided conservative candidates in contested Republican legislative primaries.

Tutvedt was attacked in the weeks leading up to the election by groups like American Tradition Partnership, Taxpayers for Liberty and the National Association for Gun Rights.

The groups sent a flurry of mailers and other material accusing candidates like Tutvedt of being too liberal or not conservative enough.

The lion’s share of the 2012 advertisements targeted Tutvedt, who at the time was serving as Senate President Pro Tempore.

Tutvedt, who is now termed out, said the material contained “absolute lies” and characterized them as dirty politics by far-right groups trying to promote their “extremist” agenda and change up the Senate leadership.

Tutvedt’s complaint alleged that Roberts, American Tradition Partnership, Taxpayers for Liberty and the National Association for Gun Rights wrongly coordinated activities in the June 2012 primary.

He has since called for campaign finance reform and more sunlight on so-called “dark money.”

“I have real problems with dark money,” Tutvedt said. “I just think dark money is a problem in the election process.”

Tutvedt beat Roberts by only 66 votes, receiving 45 percent of the vote versus Roberts’ 43.6 percent. A third candidate had 11.4 percent. Tutvedt went on to easily win re-election in the general election.

Critics have called ATP a “dark money” group that intentionally hides electioneering efforts.

Motl found that while Roberts did report $40,000 in campaign spending, he also coordinated with National Right to Work, an anti-labor group, and some of its affiliates and accepted “in-kind” services from these organizations without properly reporting their value.

The services amount to campaign contributions from corporations, which is illegal for a Montana candidate to accept, Motl said.

“Candidate Roberts did not report or disclose in-kind contributions from any of the corporate group entities that the commissioner has determined provided attack slicks, attack letters, polling, voter ID, copy-writing, graphics or other services to his campaign,” the commissioner wrote.

Motl acknowledged that the campaign tactics during the 2012 primary were deceptive and difficult for some voters to stomach.

“I know it’s tough on communities to go through this type of thing and I would hope that a public discussion of what happened in that 2012 campaign will lessen the likelihood that we will see that sort of thing in future campaigns,” Motl told the Beacon Friday. “That was a painful election. No matter what side you were on, that was a painful election.”

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