HELENA – Montana’s commissioner of political practices said Friday that the Green Party violated campaign laws by failing to report the cost of signatures gathered by a political consultant to qualify the party for the ballot.
Commissioner Jeffrey Mangan said he was ordering Montana Green Party officials to disclose by August 24 who paid for more than 9,400 signatures gathered by consultant Advanced Micro Targeting Inc. and how much it cost.
However, Green Party coordinator Danielle Breck said the party had no contact with the firm and no knowledge of how much it spent.
“We’re totally willing to cooperate with anything that the commissioner of political practices asks of us but we have no knowledge of the expenditures so we’ll see how that works,” she said.
Democratic officials in March filed a complaint with Mangan’s office against Advanced Micro Targeting, a Las Vegas-based firm that’s previously done work for Republican campaigns. Democrats claimed the firm conducted paid electioneering work that should have been reported to state regulators, but did not allege wrongdoing by the Green Party.
“This ruling proves what we have known all along: that an out-of-state dark money group tried to interfere in Montana’s elections,” Nancy Keenan, executive director of the Montana Democratic Party, said in an emailed statement.
A state judge recently ordered Green Party candidates removed from the November ballot for not gathering enough valid signatures to qualify after Democrats sued Secretary of State Cory Stapleton. Stapleton, a Republican, appealed that decision on Wednesday and asked District Judge James Reynolds to suspend his July 9 order while the case is pending.
Democrats and Republicans agree that having the Green Party on the ballot could siphon votes away from Democratic candidates, including U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, who is being challenged by state Auditor Matt Rosendale.
Mangan dismissed Advanced Micro Targeting from the complaint, agreeing with the consulting firm’s lawyers that it was not required to report expenditures because it was not organized to support or oppose a candidate or ballot issue.
But the commissioner said in a written decision that the Greens were required to report any money spent by Advanced Micro Targeting as an “in-kind contribution.”
“It is likely a significant amount of money was expended in an effort to place the Montana Green Party on the ballot,” Mangan wrote. “Montana citizens expect transparency in all political practices, yet no one has stepped forward to simply report the amount of money spent in this signature gathering process.”
Representatives of Advanced Micro Targeting did not immediately respond to telephone and email messages.
Mangan said a fine against the Green Party was justified but did not set an amount.
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