Campaign Regulator Finds State Auditor Filed Late Reports

State Auditor Monica Lindeen violated campaign rules by missing filing deadlines following the 2012 elections

By MATT VOLZ, Associated Press

HELENA — State Auditor Monica Lindeen violated campaign rules by missing filing deadlines following the 2012 elections, but she and her chief counsel did not improperly use the services of an office employee for their campaigns, Montana’s campaign regulator said Thursday.

State Rep. Matthew Monforton, R-Bozeman, had filed a complaint against Lindeen and Jesse Laslovich, saying that Deputy Securities Commissioner Lynne Egan helped the pair in their 2012 campaigns by performing duties reserved for their campaign treasurers. Egan is a state employee who conducted campaign activity during her workdays, Monforton said.

Lindeen was running for re-election, and Laslovich was campaigning for attorney general in 2012. This year, Lindeen is running for secretary of state and Laslovich for state auditor.

Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl dismissed Monforton’s allegations. Egan deposited campaign checks for Lindeen and Laslovich and spoke with them about their campaigns during her lunch hour and other breaks, Motl concluded in his investigation.

There is no requirement that contributions be deposited by the campaign treasurer, Egan conducted the campaign activity on her own time and no state resources were expended, Motl wrote.

“The complaint used too broad a brush as the facts, when detailed, show that Ms. Egan understood her obligations as a public employee and carefully designed her campaign-related actions so as not to violate the law,” Motl wrote.

However, Motl found in the course of his investigation that Lindeen had filed two campaign reports months after they were due, which is a campaign violation. He submitted his findings to the Lewis and Clark County attorney, who rarely prosecutes campaign finance cases, and said he anticipates negotiating a settlement with Lindeen.

Monforton filed an objection to Motl’s conclusions, saying Motl ignored campaign rules that say all contributions must be transferred to the campaign treasurer. Monforton says Lindeen and Laslovich’s campaign treasurers in Chester and Billings, respectively, never saw those contributions.

Monforton dismissed the campaign violations Motl did find as a partisan whitewash. Lindeen and Laslovich are Democrats, and Motl was appointed by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock.

“I think he’s using those violations to obscure the more serious violation of relying on state employees to conduct campaign activity during their work days,” Monforton said of Motl.

Motl responded by saying Lindeen and Laslovich’s campaign activities were under the control of the treasurer, and that he applies the same scrutiny to Democratic candidates as he does Republicans.

“Those two complaints were treated in the same way that every other complaint has been treated, regardless of political office,” Motl said.

Lindeen said she apologizes for the late filings, but was pleased that Motl dismissed Monforton’s allegations.

“Obviously, it was kind of a waste of time,” Lindeen said. “Certainly there was nothing that was wrong.”

Laslovich called Monforton’s new objection desperate, and said the legislator’s allegations are politically motivated. “His only interest here is to try to divert us away form the real issues facing Montana and the election,” Laslovich said.