Pro-Pot Group Ordered to Identify Donors

Organization that spent $5 million promoting Montana's ballot measures to legalize recreational marijuana must identify its donors

By Tristan Scott

HELENA — A mysterious organization that spent $5 million in support of Montana’s successful ballot measures to legalize recreational marijuana must identify its donors, the commissioner of political practices has ruled.

Commissioner Jeff Mangan found Monday that the group North Fund violated Montana’s campaign practices laws by failing to report where it got its money. He ordered the organization to identify its donors within 10 days.

Washington-based North Fund could face a civil penalty for registering with Montana’s commissioner of political practices as an incidental political committee when Mangan’s office determined it should have registered as an independent committee. Independent committees must disclose donors.

North Fund spokesperson Naomi Seligman said Tuesday the organization does not comment on ongoing legal matters.

In September, Seligman said North Fund supported “innovative social entrepreneurship, educational initiatives, and advocacy campaigns across the country that lift up communities and create real and lasting change.”

Its political contributions totaled $17.2 million across five states this year, Mangan found.

“North Fund does not have a website, social media account or any other publicly available presence interested Montanans can easily access,” Mangan wrote. North Fund did not disclose an office location or a list of employees who could be contacted about its work, he added.

North Fund also failed to provide specific examples of its purpose, including examples of non-election activities or spending, he said.

Mangan did not immediately respond to several questions, including whether North Fund could appeal his decision and the size of a fine that could be levied. A civil case could also be filed in state District Court, the ruling notes.

North Fund made $4.7 million in cash contributions to New Approach Montana, which gathered signatures to get recreational marijuana ballot measures on the November ballot and campaigned in favor of the measures. North Fund made another $340,000 in in-kind contributions — spending that supported New Approach Montana’s efforts to legalize recreational marijuana. More than $210,000 of the in-kind contributions were spent on public opinion research.

North Fund spent or contributed $6.75 million toward three ballot measures in Colorado this year, $3.3 million on three ballot measures in Missouri, and $2 million on an effort to raise the minimum wage in Ohio, Mangan said.

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