Montana

Group Backing Legalized Pot No Longer Has to Name Donors

Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan on March 3 reversed his December decision

By Associated Press
Young medical marijuana 'clones,' or trimmings from larger plants used to start new plants, are pictured in a hydroponic growing tray at a Montana grow operation. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

HELENA – A complaint was closed against the Washington-based group that bankrolled the marijuana legalization effort in Montana last year after a commissioner of political practices determined the group will not have to disclose its donors.

Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan on March 3 reversed his December decision against the North Fund where he ruled the group must identify its donors after it registered as an incidental political committee instead of an independent committee, The Montana State News Bureau reported Friday. Independent committees must disclose donors.

Montana’s Disclose Act, passed in 2015, requires groups to disclose donors if the main purpose of the group is to support or oppose candidates or ballot issues.

The North Fund spent $5 million in support of cannabis legalization last year, while opponents to legalization argued they were beat by a dark money group. The primary opponent against legalization, Billings businessman Steve Zabawa, filed the initial complaint against the group.

“The Commissioner and the COPP have spent significant amounts of time and resources resolving this issue, and we understand not everyone will agree with the final determination,” Mangan said.

The decision included a letter North Fund sent to the commissioner’s office dated Feb. 10 that outlined the group’s $48 million in political spending spread across ballot issues, non-ballot issue groups, direct spending for non-ballot issue related activities and administrative costs. Expenditures were listed as civil rights, social action and advocacy, as well as capacity-building.

Mangan said there were 83 expenditures combined made to 70 separate organizations. He agreed in January to reconsider his earlier order.

“The commissioner’s office does not have the ability to change the law no matter how much money an organization pours into Montana’s elections,” Mangan said. “Additional safeguards and transparency measures can only be proposed through the legislative process to require more disclosure to the people of Montana in instances like these.”

Zabawa told KTVH-TV that he was disappointed with the decision, and that voters should have had the chance to see who was backing the legalization campaign.

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