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COPP News

Commissioner Responds to Concerns Over Political Robotexts

Texts without Attribution Violate Montana Law

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The Commissioner of Political Practice’s (COPP) office has received an increasing number of complaints about unsolicited political robotexts over the past few days.

 

“We’ve received one formal complaint and numerous other complaints about campaign-related text messages,” said Commissioner Jeff Mangan. “Complaints have come in about federal, state, and local political texts and concern the campaign communications of candidates, political parties, and committees.”

 

Montana law requires that all election communications, electioneering communications, and independent expenditures include an attribution disclosing who the communication is funded by, and contact information for the source (Mont. Code Ann. § 13-35-225).  The Commissioner will enforce the requirements of the attribution laws on all political communications including text messages.

 

Candidates and committees should be aware of a separate federal law, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which regulates telephone communications.  The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enforces the TCPA, and Montanans can file a complaint with

Commissioner of Political Practices Addresses Concerns Surrounding Absentee Ballot Mailers

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Mailers urging Montanans to apply for an absentee ballot—regardless of whether they were already registered to vote by mail— have prompted many concerned Montanans to reach out to the Commissioner of Political Practice’s office. “We’ve had inquiries about the funding behind the mailers, possible political nature of the messaging, voter privacy, and the use of the state seal,” said Commissioner Jeff Mangan. “In reviewing these concerns, the mailers do not appear to violate Montana’s campaign finance reporting and disclosure laws.” 

 

The funding for the mailers is traceable through the Federal Election Commission and does not come from a dark money source. Under Montana law, the mailers do not qualify as an election or electioneering communication because they do not support or oppose a candidate or ballot issue, nor do they refer to a candidate, political party or ballot issue on the November ballot.  Rather, the mailers encourage registered voters to apply for an absentee ballot. Other states, such as Wisconsin, have also had third-party groups send voters absentee ballot registration materials that contained confusing information.

 

New American Jobs Fund, a federally registered super political action committee, sent the Montana mailers and used a Voter File purchased from the Secretary of

Montana's Campaign Contribution Limits Upheld

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On May 2, 2018 a Ninth Circuit US Court of Appeals panel denied the petition for rehearing en banc on behalf of the Court. Montana’s campaign contribution limits are once again upheld and remain in place. The Commissioner extends his thanks to Assistant Attorney General Matthew T. Cochenour, as well as to the Attorney General's Office, for their continued work and support in this matter.

 

Please find the order in No. 16-35424 - Lair v. Motl, attached to this release.

Commissioner of Political Practices Issues Decision in Ethics Matter Adams v Montana Board of Regents

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April 25, 2018

The Montana Commissioner of Political Practices office has completed its consideration of an ethics complaint, Adams v. Montana Board of Regents, COPP-2018-ETH-001, accepted jurisdiction, and has issued a summary decision.

The Commissioners office takes the responsibility of upholding Montana’s ethics laws very seriously.  In this matter, the issue of jurisdiction played a central role, as to whether Montana’s Board of Regents were indeed bound by Title 2, Part 1, Montana’s Code of Ethics.

Upon receipt of the Board of Regents responses to the filed complaint, the Commissioners office initiated a thorough review of all relevant legal authority.  Thanks to the work of the COPP’s Chief Legal Jaime MacNaughton and staff, the Commissioner has determined Members of Montana’s Board of Regents are public employees, and therefore subject to Montana’s Code of Ethics.

The Commissioner understands the members of Montana’s Board of Regents are strong advocates for education and Montana’s University system. The Montana Board of Regents has a responsibility to look at all issues that may affect the operation of the Montana University System, including funding.  Like any other public employee, the Board of Regents also have a duty not to utilize public resources in support (or opposition) of a Ballot Issue.  Seeking and providing information, determining the veracity of that information, providing the public guidance on effects of passage (or failure to pass) of a Ballot Issue, for example, without expressing support or opposition is routinely done in public meetings at all levels of local government.

Included in their response, the Montana Board of Regents requested guidance should the Commissioner find Montana’s Code of Ethics apply. We urge the BOR and interested parties to read the decision fully as it contains extensive guidance in these matters, and the COPP is ready to refer and provide any additional resources regarding Title 2, Chapter 1 within the scope of the duties of the Office of Commissioner of Political Practices.

Jeff Mangan
Montana Commissioner of Political Practices

Commissioner of Political Practices Announces Receipt of Payment Satisfying Civil Penalty and Judgment in COPP v. Prouse

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MEDIA RELEASE
April 23, 2018

The Montana Commissioner of Political Practices has received a payment of $70,211.99 from Mr. Wesley Prouse to satisfy the civil penalty and judgement entered against him in COPP v. Prouse, First Judicial District Court, Cause No. DDV-2014-250.  The District Court entered a Judgment against Mr. Prouse on January 20, 2016.  The Commissioner notes that according to the Judgement of the Court, Mr. Prouse is still prohibited from running for public office until such time that he corrects his 2010 campaign finance reports, to disclose $9,421 in campaign contributions and expenditures.

The receipt of the payment of the civil penalty imposed by the Court, resolves the issues as set for in Bonogofsky v. Prouse, COPP-2010-CFP-033.  Again, the COPP would like to thank Ms. Bonogofsky of Billings for bringing this matter to the attention of the COPP.  We would also like to thank Mr. Prouse for accepting responsibility and working with the COPP to achieve resolution of this matter.  Finally, we would like to thank Mr. Gene Jarussi for his service to the people of Montana as a Special Attorney General, through volunteering his time on a pro bono basis in this matter.

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