Campaign Regulator: Organization Backing Higher-Ed Levy Committed Violations

Commissioner adds that group made ‘good faith effort’ at transparency prior to complaint

By Beacon Staff

The statewide ballot-issue committee pushing a levy that contributes $19 million a year to public higher education in Montana committed campaign finance violations that justify a fine, according to the state Commissioner of Political Practices.

In his findings on Tuesday, however, Commissioner Jeff Mangan noted the group “made a good faith effort” to disclose the information that it failed to disclose prior to the complainant’s allegations.

Mangan found the committee failed to list donors’ occupation and employer information seven times and that it did not give sufficient detail in describing the work by its consultants.

The commissioner also found the committee should have been regularly reporting donors and contributions since 2016, but filed one report in November covering those missed periods.

The case has been forwarded to the Lewis and Clark County Attorney’s Office. Campaign finance violations are most often resolved through negotiated settlements that include fines.

The allegations first surfaced in February, when Timothy Adams, of Montanans Against Higher Taxes, filed a complaint accusing the committee, Montanans for the 6-Mill, of campaign practice violations. Adams, who registered as a Green Party candidate for Montana’s U.S. Senate race, was once on the state Republican Party’s payroll before he began heading the newly formed anti-tax group. He filed as a challenger against Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, setting up a tough race where a Green Party candidate could siphon votes from the Democrat.

In a statement provided by Strategies 360, a public relations firm representing the ballot-issue committee, former Montana Secretary of State Bob Brown, a member of Montanans for the 6-mill, defended the group’s work supporting the levy, which has been renewed every decade since 1948 and will appear on the 2018 ballot.

“Since 1948, Montanans have supported the 6-Mill Levy as an opportunity to help families across Montana afford higher education,” Brown stated.

“Every 10 years, a group of citizens has fought to see the 6-Mill Levy passed, and we are no different. As noted in the Commissioner of Political Practices’ most recent findings, our committee has ‘been in consistent contact’ to address any concerns and report fully and transparently. We remain committed to that open communication and to continuing to support the 6-Mill Levy’s tradition of assisting Montanans from all walks of life access the opportunities provided by higher education in Montana.”

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