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Candidate and Committee Information

The Office of Political Practices is committed to promoting confidence, transparency, and accountability in Montana’s democratic process by making sure Montanans can follow the money that finances and influences local elections and the legislature. To ensure this is possible, the COPP office provides the educational outreach and materials for candidates and committees. We update this page regularly; make sure to check back often to dig into the freshest info on laws, data, and best practices for campaign finance and ethics in Montana! 


Candidate Campaign Finance Information

1. Campaign Finance Laws

Montana's campaign finance laws ensure that the public can engage with a transparent reporting of money in elections. CERS (the Candidate Electronic Reporting System) makes campaign finance reports publicly available. Candidates and committees ensure transparency in Montana’s democratic processes by periodically filing legally-required campaign finance information as campaign finance reports.

It is the candidate’s responsibility and obligation to understand and comply with all Montana campaign finance laws. While COPP staff is available to provide information and support to all candidates and treasurers, again, it is the candidate who is responsible for ensuring the campaign complies with all campaign finance requirements. This section outlines 1) MCA and ARM campaign finance laws that candidates should be familiar with, 2) basic COPP campaign finance resources for candidates, and (BONUS!) 3) ethics and lobbying laws and guidance. 

MCA and ARM Legal Guidance 

Montana Code Annotated

ARM Administrative Rules of the COPP, Title 44, Chapter 11 

- Subchapter 1 Organizational Rule, Procedural Rule and General Policy

- Subchapter 2 Political Committees and Candidates

- Subchapter 3 Filing

- Subchapter 4 Reporting Contributions

- Subchapter 5 Reporting Obligations and Expenditures

- Subchapter 6 Campaign Practices

- Subchapter 7 Surplus and Constituent Accounts

COPP Campaign Finance Resources for Candidates

Accounting and Reporting Manual for Candidates : Each candidate and their treasurer should be familiar with and reference this guide regularly.
Candidate Campaign Finance Forms Guide: These forms represent the campaign finance reports that candidates must file.

Campaign Accounts and Banking Requirements 
- Candidate Guide to Navigating CERS (the Campaign Electronic Reporting System)
The COPP's Inspection and Exam Process of Campaign Finance Reports  Understand what happens once a campaign finance report is filed, and the role of the COPP and candidate in the inspection and exam process.
Requirements for Candidates Who Do Not Advance to the General Election
FAQ for Closing out Candidate Campaign Accounts & Opening a Constituent Services Accounts

Ethics

MCA Title 2. Government Structure and Administration: Chapter 2. Standards of Conduct
ARM: Title 44, Chapter 10: Code of Ethics Rules and Guidelines

Lobbying 

MCA: Title 5. Legislative Branch: Chapter 7. Lobbying
ARM: Title 44, Chapter 12: Lobbying Rules

2. Guide to Candidate Campaign Finance Forms

CANDIDATE CAMPAIGN FINANCE FORMS

The following is a list of report forms available to candidates from the Office of the Commissioner of Political Practices and a brief description of what each form is and where and when the form must be filed (available as a PDF). 

Reference this Candidate Guide to Navigating CERS to confidently and correctly file campaign finance forms. 

 -C-1 Statement of Candidate (C-1 guide and paper copy, Candidate Guide to Navigating CERS): Form C-1 is the Statement of Candidate form that candidates for statewide or state district offices(House, Senate, Public Service Commission, and District Judges) must file. Form C-1 must be filed within five days after receiving or spending money, appointing a campaign treasurer, or filing for office, whichever occurs first. Before filing a Statement of Candidate, make sure to reference this Candidate Registration Guide for details about filing in CERS, paying your candidate filing fee, and more!  A C-1 Statement of Candidate can be filed in the CERS system.

 

-C-1A Statement of Candidate (C-1A guide and paper copyCandidate Guide to Navigating CERS): Form C-1A is the Statement of Candidate for county, municipal, or school candidates. All county and municipal candidates must file form C-1A; all candidates campaigning for school trustee offices in first-class districts located in counties with populations of 15,000 and more or in county high school districts having student enrollments of 2,000 or more must file a Form C-1A. Form C-1A must be filed within five (5) days after receiving or spending money, appointing a campaign treasurer, or filing for office, whichever occurs first. Candidates for these offices must designate themselves either a 'B' box candidate (less than $500 will be cumulatively raised and spent), or a 'C' box candidate (more than $500 raised/spent). Before filing a Statement of Candidate, make sure to reference this Candidate Registration Guide for details about filing in CERS, paying your candidate filing fee, and more! A C-1A Statement of Candidate can be filed in the CERS system.

 

-C-3 Code of Fair Campaign Practices (C-3 guide and paper copyCandidate Guide to Navigating CERS): Form C-3 is the Code of Fair Campaign Practices. Candidates may sign and return the C-3 to the COPP at any time, but it is a voluntary form and is not required. A C-3 can be filed in the CERS system.

 

-C-5 Candidate Campaign Finance Report (C-5 instructions, PDF paper copy, Excel Form C-5Candidate Guide to Navigating CERS): Form C-5 is the candidate campaign finance reporting form and must be filed by all candidates who have filed a C-1 running for statewide or state district office as well as all county, municipal, and school candidates that have designated themselves 'C' box candidates on the C-lA. The C-5 reports must detail all contributions received and expenditures made by a campaign during a specific time frame. C-5s are filed periodically according to the reporting calendar, which varies according to office sought and election date. See the Reporting Calendars page. Candidates will file form C-5 in the CERS system.

 

-C-7 Notice of Pre-Election Contributions (C-7 guide and paper copyCandidate Guide to Navigating CERS): Form C-7 is the Notice of Pre-Elections Contributions and must be filed by:

  • - any candidate who receives $100 or more from a single source between the 16th day before an election and the date of the election (for both primary and general elections). File form C-7 in the CERS system.
  • - Candidates must file within 2 business days after receipt of a contribution of $100 or more.

-C-7E Notice of Pre-Election Expenditures (C-7E guide and paper copyCandidate Guide to Navigating CERS): Form C-7E is the Notice of Pre-Election Expenditures and must be filed by:

  • As of October 1, 2019: Any candidate who makes an expenditure of $100 between the 17th day before the election and the day of the election (13-37-226, MCA) must file a C-7E form. This applies for both primary and general elections. 
  • The C-7E form must be filed within 2 business days after a candidate makes an expenditure or incurs a debt of $100 or more. All C-7E Forms must be filed electronically in CERS.

 

-C-8 Constituent Services Reporting Form: Form C-8 is the Constituent Services Reporting form, where any expenses made from an established constituent services account must be reported (learn more about constituent services accounts here). C-8 reports are to be filed quarterly with the COPP and are established by filing form C-118C (please see below).C-8 forms must be filed by sending a digital or hard copy C-8 form either via email (cppcompliance@mt.gov), fax (406-444-1643), mail (PO Box 202401, Helena, MT, 59620-2401), or hand delivered (1209 8th Avenue, Helena, Montana).

 

-C-118 Disposition of Surplus Campaign Funds: Form C-118 is the Disposition of Surplus Campaign Funds and is the form that details or documents how candidates for public office who filed C-5 campaign finance reports disposed of any and all surplus campaign funds. Within 120 days of filing a closing CS campaign finance report, a candidate must dispose of surplus campaign funds; form C-118 must be filed by a candidate within 135 days after the closing CS is filed. C-118 forms must be filed either via email (cppcompliance@mt.gov), fax (406-444-1643), mail (PO Box 202401, Helena, MT, 59620-2401), or hand delivered (1209 8th Avenue, Helena, Montana).

 

-C-118C Establishing a Constituent Services Account (C-118C instructions and form): Form C-118C is the form that allows an official who has been elected to public office to create a constituent services account (please see this guide for more information on constituent services accounts). Following the filing of a closing campaign finance report, all candidates with surplus campaign funds are required to file either a Form C-118 or C-118C, pursuant to Montana Code Annotated § 13-37-240. A candidate that has been elected and has chosen to open a constituent services account must file a Form C-118C.C-118C forms must be filed either via email (cppcompliance@mt.gov), fax (406-444-1643), mail (PO Box 202401, Helena, MT, 59620-2401), or hand delivered (1209 8th Avenue, Helena, Montana).

 

-D-1 Business Disclosure Statement (D-1 form and guide): Form D-1 is the Business Disclosure Statement and must be filed by:

- statewide or state district elected officials;
- candidates for statewide or state district offices;
- department directors; and
- any individual appointed to fill any of these positions.

The dates by which form D-l must be filed are:

  • - Statewide or state district elected officials or department directors: prior to December 15 of each even-numbered year;
  • - Candidates for statewide or state district offices: within five (5) days of the time the candidate files for office (with the Secretary of State); and
  • - Individual appointed to any of the above offices: at the earlier of the time of submission of the person's name for confirmation or the assumption of office. 

INSPECTION AND EXAM PROCESS OF CAMPAIGN FINANCE FORMS

 

Montana campaign finance laws protect the public’s right to know who is paying to finance elections and how money is spent by campaigns. Candidates and committees ensure transparency in Montana’s democratic processes by periodically filing legally-required campaign finance information as campaign finance reports (C-4, C-5, C-6, C-7, and C-7E forms).

The COPP is mandated to review all candidate and committee financial reports (13-37-121[1], Montana Code Annotated). Once a campaign finance report is filed, the COPP inspects each report and sends the candidate or committee an Inspection Report.

The Inspection Report identifies any issues that the candidate or committee must address in their campaign finance reports in order to comply with Montana law. For example, an Inspection Report will alert candidates to items that require additional detail or information, items that may not be reported in the correct place or manner, or other potential issues. Click here to see a sample Inspection Report.

It is the responsibility of each candidate and committee to amend financial reports to ensure their compliance with Montana’s campaign finance laws. To learn more about the COPP's inspection and exam process, click here.

3. Campaign Finance Resources and Guides

Getting Started: Filing as a Candidate and Navigating CERS

- Candidate Guide to Navigating CERS: Part 1 details how to file a Statement of Candidate (C-1 or C-1A form) in CERS, and Guide to Re-Access a CERS or ePass Account
- Getting Started: Register as a Candidate, Bank Requirements, and Close out a Campaign Account (With details about filing, exploratory campaigns, reporting a filing fee, and more!)

- Campaign Finance 101 Training (38 minute video, training PowerPoint). This training was geared for 2019 city candidates. The overview of campaign finance is applicable for all candidates; please ensure you know your relevant report and other campaign finance dates at this calendar.

-The Campaign Electronic Reporting System (CERS) is a publicly accessible database where candidates and committees report the money they receive and spend to promote and oppose candidates and other ballot issues. Candidate Guide to Navigating CERS details:

                * Part 1: Create an Account and File a Statement of Candidate

* Part 2: Create a Campaign Finance Report

* Part 3: Add Contributions in CERS (Add in a candidate loan)

* Part 4: Add Expenditures in CERS

* Part 5: Add Debts in CERS

* Part 6: Add Payments (on Debts and Loans) in CERS

* Part 7: Understand the Summary Tab

* Part 8: File a Campaign Finance Report

* Part 9: Campaign Finance Report and Review Process

* Campaign Finance Resources

Contributions:

- Candidate Guide to Navigating CERS: Part 3: Add Contributions in CERS
How to Report a Self-Loan to Your Candidate Campaign Account

- Contribution Limits, Graphic for Contribution Limits Per Election
- Reporting Fundraising Contributions (Quick-reference graphic on Requirements for Paid Communications)
- FAQ on Political Raffles
- Report a Self-Loan to a Candidate Campaign Account

Loans

Expenditures:

- Candidate Guide to Navigating CERS: Part 4: Add Expenditures in CERS
- Attribution Information for Paid Communications (Paid for By requirements), Non-Attributed Materials
- Guide: How to Report Paid Communications (Ads)
- Reporting Stipends and Gifts from a Candidate Campaign (COPP Guidance)
- Graphic on Reporting Social Media Expenditures

 

Closing out a Candidate Campaign Account

- Post-Election (Primary or General) Options for Campaign Accounts
This webpage covers: how to address surplus contributions, remaining debts, constituent services accounts,  and how to close out a campaign after an election (for both primary and general elections).


 

Campaign Finance Graphics


Paid Communications (PDF)

 

Contribution Limits Per Election (PDF)

Reporting Social Media (PDF)

4. Report Due Dates and Event Calendar

Reference MCA 13-37 for all report filing timelines (13-37-226) and the time periods covered by reports (13-37-228). Report due dates and training and outreach events are available on the Reporting Calendars page for:

  • - 2018 Candidate Report Dates
  • - 2019-2020 Lobbying Report Dates
  • - 2019 City Candidate Report Dates
  • - 2020 Candidates C-5 Report Dates
  • - School Candidate Report Dates
  • - Committee Report Dates

5. Complaint Process, Decisions, Docket, and Public Information

COMPLAINT PROCESS, DECISIONS, DOCKET, AND PUBLIC INFORMATION

The COPP manages complaints concerning campaigns, lobbying, and ethics. The Commissioner has final determination as to whether a submitted complaint is accepted for filing. If accepted, the COPP conducts an investigation for campaign and lobbying complaints.  Please keep in mind that all accepted campaign and lobbying complaints are made public immediately upon acceptance. Investigations are not conducted for ethics complaints. Accepted ethics complaints filed against elected officials will also be made public immediately upon acceptance. Accepted ethics Complaints filed against State of Montana employees are not made public.

Learn more about the complaint process for:

FORMAL COMPLAINTS
Click this Docket of Formal Complaints to see:

  1. 1. Campaign Practice Complaints,
  2. 2. Orders of Non-Compliance,
  3. 3. Lobbying Complaints, and
  4. 4. Ethics Complaints.

DECISIONS
Click the below links for:

- Campaign Finance Decisions
- Lobbying Decisions
- Ethics Decisions
- Advisory Opinions
- Orders of Non-Compliance
- Response Letters 

RECENT DECISIONS, ORDERS, AND ADVISORY OPINIONS
Find all campaign finance decisions for download here
Find all ethics decisions for download here
Find all lobbying decisions for download here

- Johnson v. Hopkins - COPP-2018-CFP-056
- Eaton v. Olsen - COPP-2018-CFP-035
- Essmann v BCOC
- COPP-2018-CFP- 043
- Eaton v. Bishop - COPP-2018-CFP- 044
- GCD v. Buchanan - COPP-2018-CFP-055
- Hart v Pearson et al - COPP-2016-LOB-001 & 002
- Eaton v. McClafferty - COPP-2018-CFP- 045

INFORMATION REQUEST POLICY
   - Dissemination of Formal Complaints and Decisions
   - Confidentiality of Investigative Documents

6. General Candidate FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q1: I forgot my ePass login information or I cannot access CERS with my new ePass account. How do I regain access to my CERS profile?


A: Reference this guide to regain access to ePass and/or CERS. It’s also important to know that ePass is a State of Montana application that is not unique to the COPP but is used as a portal to access a variety of statewide resources. While users must use ePass to log into their CERS profile, the two systems are different. Whereas CERS is administered directly by the COPP, ePass is not.

Q2: Can I use campaign funds to pay the filing fee required to file as a candidate?

A: Yes, candidates may use previously-raised campaign funds to pay their candidate filing fee with the county elections office. Candidates may also pay this fee out-of-pocket using personal funds.

  

Q3: What are the contribution limits, and how do they apply to me?

A: All candidates running for elected office in Montana are subject to contribution limits, which detail the maximum amount a candidate may accept from individuals and political committees. Specific contribution limits based on candidate type can be found on the COPP’s website. Keep in mind that a candidate’s own contributions to their campaign are exempt from contribution limits; there is no limit to what the candidate may contribute to their own campaign. Also, candidates cannot accept contributions from corporations or unions (§13-35-227, MCA).

 

Q4: When filling out the C-1A, it asks me to indicate if I am a ‘B’ or ‘C’ box candidate. What is the difference between a 'B' and 'C' box candidate? (County, municipal, and school candidates must file a C-1A Statement of Candidate. Statewide or state district candidates file the C-1 Statement of Candidate.)

A: On the C-1A Statement of Candidate, the candidate must indicate if they are a ‘B’ or ‘C’ box candidate. 'B' box candidates "certify that I expect the total amount of contributions or expenditures will not exceed $500 (including personal funds)" for their campaign and are not required to file C-5 campaign finance reports with our office. Simply put, candidates can maintain 'B' box status and remain exempt from campaign finance reporting requirements if the combination of contributions received by the campaign and expenditures made does not exceed $500.

 

'C' box candidates certify that "I expect to receive contributions and/or make expenditures exceeding $500 (including personal funds)" and therefore must file C-5 campaign finance reports on the appropriate schedule. So, if the candidate’s combination of contributions received and expenditures made exceeds $500, that candidate would be a ‘C’ box candidate and would need to file C-5 campaign financial reports according to schedule. If a 'B' box candidate exceeds $500 in expenditure and contribution activity, they will need to file an amended C-1A Statement of Candidate indicating they are now a 'C' box candidate and file an initial C-5 report within 5 days of exceeding the $500 threshold. Please note that personal funds are included in the $500 threshold, as is the filing fee.

 

Q5: I am a ‘C’ box candidate (will exceed $500 in contributions and expenditures) who has filed with the Commissioner of Political Practices to run for public office. When are my C-5 campaign finance reports due?

A: ‘C’ box candidates are required to periodically file C-5 campaign financial reports disclosing contributions received and expenditures made by the campaign. The full reporting calendar (broken down by candidate type) is available on the COPP’s website.

 

Q6: What is the designation between primary and general elections? And do the contribution limits apply to both cycles?

A: The primary election and the general election are defined as two separate elections under Montana statute, and the 2019 contribution limits apply to both. Under the requirements of §13-37-216(5), MCA, "election" means the general election or a primary election that involves two or more candidates for the same nomination.

 
If there is no contested primary, there is only one election to which the contribution limits apply. If there is a contested primary, then there are two elections to which the contribution limits apply. For example, a candidate who is involved in a contested primary election could accept the maximum contribution limit from a donor during the primary. Then, and after advancing to the general election, the candidate could accept the max contribution from the same donor again for the general election. If the candidate is not involved in a contested primary and is advancing straight to the general election, the candidate could only receive one max contribution from that donor because they are only participating in one election.

 

Q7: I want to put out campaign signs and distribute other materials promoting my candidacy. What are the requirements for these materials?

 

A: Political signs must comply with sign standards found in 75-15-113, MCA, and ARM 18.6.246. Some, but not all, legal requirements for political signs include: 

 

1) Signs promoting political candidates or issues shall be placed on private property only and cannot be placed without the permission of the property owner. Political signs must comply with sign standards found in 75-15-113, MCA, and ARM 18.6.231, unless otherwise specified in this rule. 

2) Political signs must not:

a) be placed on or allow any portion to intrude in the public right-of-way or on public property; and

b) be placed within 100 feet of any entrance to the building in which a polling place is located.

3) Political signs will not be considered in determining the spacing required between conforming off-premises outdoor advertising signs.
4) Federal law requires that any sign intended to be read from the highway must be regulated by the state. In Montana, as in other states, controlling highway signs is the responsibility of the Department of Transportation. Political signs must be removed within 14 days following the applicable election. The MTDOT shall notify the landowner of illegal signs which are not removed within 14 days. The signs shall be removed by the department 24 hours after notification to the landowner. The department shall retain removed political signs for five working days after notification of removal before their destruction. The sign owner may retrieve the signs during this period.

5) Signs that pose a traffic hazard may be removed by the department without prior notification to the sign owner.

(6) Political signs do not require permits and are not subject to permit fees.

 

All paid campaign materials meant to support the candidate must include a “paid for by” attribution message disclosing the entity that financed the material. This includes—but is not limited to—campaign mailers, radio ads, yard signs, boosted Facebook or Instagram posts, etc. The ‘paid for by’ message must be large enough to be readable and must include the name of the candidate and the listed mailing address. For more information, familiarize yourself with attribution requirements and how to report paid political communications.

 

If the material is too small for the disclaimer to be included (e.g. with a text, keychain, etc.), a copy of the material and the attribution information may be sent to the COPP to be approved for use to avoid potential campaign practices complaints. This information is publicly accessible on the COPP’s website. For more details on non-attributed campaign communications, review this information.

 

If you are placing signs on a State roadway, you must contact the Montana Department of Transportation (DOT) Right of Way Bureau (444-6055) for guidance. Also, reference this DOT signage guidance.

 

Timeline: Cities and counties determine when a candidate can put up yard signs. To determine your municipality's guidance on signage (e.g. when signs can be put up and when they must be taken down), contact your local county elections administrator.

 

  

Q8: My campaign is planning on holding a fundraiser in my community where contributions will be collected from the group. What are the specific reporting requirements?
 

A: Before hosting a mass collection fundraiser event, keep in mind that any individual who donates $35 or more IN THE AGGREGATE (in total) to the campaign must have their name, address, occupation, and employer information listed on C-5 finance reports. The COPP staff recommends you collect this information from all donors, regardless of the size of their donation, and maintain accurate records to easily track each contributor's total contributions to date so that you already have it on hand when a donor hits that $35 threshold.

 

For individuals who provide a contribution at this type of event and have not met the $35 threshold, this information is not required. The campaign can report the total amount of these under $35 contributions collected at the event as a lump sum contribution in the fundraiser section of the C-5 report, along with 1) the date of the event, 2) the event’s location, 3) a brief description of the event itself, and 4) the approximate number of attendees. For further guidance in reporting contributions received at fundraiser events, please reference this guide.

 

Remember that candidates cannot accept anonymous contributions. If you do not know the source of a contribution made to your campaign, the contribution should be donated to charity.

 

Q9: My campaign plans on holding a raffle fundraiser, with various items donated to the campaign by local businesses serving as the prizes. What are reporting requirements?

A: Like with any other fundraiser or mass collection event, any contributor who donates $35 or more to the campaign needs to have their name, address, occupation and employer information included on C-5 reports. Contributions of less than $35 can be reported as a lump sum amount with the date of the event, its location, a brief description of the event, and the approximate number of attendees.

 

Please note that with a raffle event, any items donated to the campaign must be listed as in-kind contributions. Donated items must be reported for their fair market value (or best estimate) from the individual or entity who donated them. For more guidance on raffles, please see this 2008 advisory opinion issued by Commissioner Unsworth. 

 

Q10: Which candidates are required to file campaign finance reports in CERS?

A: Candidate for statewide or state district (House, Senate, public service commission, and district judges) must file campaign finance reports in CERS. Candidates for city, county, and school offices are not required to use CERS. That said, a new law from the 2019 legislative session will require ALL candidates (yes, ALL candidates) to use CERS after October 1, 2019 for campaign finance reports.

7. City Candidate FAQs

The COPP held a 2019 training specifically for city candidates on July 18, 2019. You can view the training, which gives an overview of campaign finance, here as a video (38 minutes) or as a PowerPoint.

 

Q1: I would like to run as a candidate for an elected public office in my city. What documentation do I need to file?

A: Candidates seeking election to a city office must file a C-1A Statement of Candidate with the COPP to appear on an official election ballot. The C-1A Statement of Candidate must be filed “within five (5) days after receiving or spending money, appointing a campaign treasurer, or filing for office, whichever occurs first.” There is no charge or filing fee to register as a candidate with the COPP. Candidates must also file a Declaration for Nomination and Oath of Candidacy with their county elections administrator. Please visit the Secretary of State’s website for more information on how to file as a candidate for public office in the state of Montana.

 

Q2: Can I use campaign funds to pay the filing fee required to file as a candidate with the county elections office?

A: Yes, candidates may use previously-raised campaign funds to pay their candidate filing fee with the county elections office. Candidates may also pay this fee out-of-pocket using personal funds.

  

Q3: What are the contribution limits, and how do they apply to me?

A: All candidates running for elected office in Montana are subject to contribution limits, which detail the maximum amount a candidate may accept from individuals and political committees. Specific contribution limits applicable to the 2019 city elections can be found on the COPP’s website. Keep in mind that a candidate’s own contributions to their campaign are exempt from contribution limits; there is no limit to what the candidate may contribute to their own campaign. Also, candidates cannot accept contributions from corporations or unions (§13-35-227, MCA).

 

Q4: When filling out the C-1A, it asks me to indicate if I am a ‘B’ or ‘C’ box candidate. What is the difference between a 'B' and 'C' box candidate?

A: On the C-1A Statement of Candidate, the candidate must indicate if they are a ‘B’ or ‘C’ box candidate. 'B' box candidates "certify that I expect the total amount of contributions or expenditures will not exceed $500 (including personal funds)" for their campaign and are not required to file C-5 campaign finance reports with our office. Simply put, candidates can maintain 'B' box status and remain exempt from campaign finance reporting requirements if the combination of contributions received by the campaign and expenditures made does not exceed $500.

 

'C' box candidates certify that "I expect to receive contributions and/or make expenditures exceeding $500 (including personal funds)" and therefore must file C-5 campaign finance reports on the appropriate schedule. So, if the candidate’s combination of contributions received and expenditures made exceeds $500, that candidate would be a ‘C’ box candidate and would need to file C-5 campaign financial reports according to schedule. If a 'B' box candidate exceeds $500 in expenditure and contribution activity, they will need to file an amended C-1A Statement of Candidate indicating they are now a 'C' box candidate and file an initial C-5 report within 5 days of exceeding the $500 threshold. Please note that personal funds are included in the $500 threshold, as is the filing fee.

 

Q5: I am a ‘C’ box candidate (will exceed $500 in contributions and expenditures) who has filed with the Commissioner of Political Practices to run for public office. When are my C-5 campaign finance reports due?

A: ‘C’ box candidates are required to periodically file C-5 campaign financial reports disclosing contributions received and expenditures made by the campaign. The first required C-5 report for the 2019 city elections will be due August 6th, with the full reporting calendar available on the COPP’s website. For tips on what information is required to be included within these C-5 reports, please see the COPP’s Candidate page.

 

Q6: What is the designation between primary and general elections? And do the contribution limits apply to both cycles?

A: The primary election and the general election are defined as two separate elections under Montana statute, and the 2019 contribution limits apply to both. Under the requirements of §13-37-216(5), MCA, "election" means the general election or a primary election that involves two or more candidates for the same nomination.

If there is no contested primary, there is only one election to which the contribution limits apply. If there is a contested primary, then there are two elections to which the contribution limits apply. For example, a candidate who is involved in a contested primary election could accept the maximum contribution limit from a donor during the primary. Then, and after advancing to the general election, the candidate could accept the max contribution from the same donor again for the general election. If the candidate is not involved in a contested primary and is advancing straight to the general election, the candidate could only receive one max contribution from that donor because they are only participating in one election.

 

Q7: I want to put out campaign signs and distribute other materials promoting my candidacy. What are the requirements for these materials?

A: Political signs must comply with sign standards found in 75-15-113, MCA, and ARM 18.6.246

 

All paid campaign materials meant to support the candidate must include a “paid for by” attribution message disclosing the entity that financed the material. This includes—but is not limited to—campaign mailers, radio ads, yard signs, boosted Facebook or Instagram posts, etc. The ‘paid for by’ message must be large enough to be readable and must include the name of the candidate and the listed mailing address. For more information, familiarize yourself with attribution requirements and how to report paid political communications.

 

If the material is too small for the disclaimer to be included (e.g. with a text, keychain, etc.), a copy of the material and the attribution information may be sent to the COPP to be approved for use to avoid potential campaign practices complaints. This information is publicly accessible on the COPP’s website. For more details on non-attributed campaign communications, review this information.

 

Timeline: Cities and counties determine when a candidate can put up yard signs. To determine your municipality's guidance on signage (e.g. when signs can be put up and when they must be taken down), contact your local county elections administrator.

  

Q8: My campaign is planning on holding a fundraiser in my community where contributions will be collected from the group. What are the specific reporting requirements?
 

A: Before hosting a mass collection fundraiser event, keep in mind that any individual who donates $35 or more IN THE AGGREGATE (in total) to the campaign must have their name, address, occupation, and employer information listed on C-5 finance reports. The COPP staff recommends you collect this information from all donors, regardless of the size of their donation, and maintain accurate records to easily track each contributor's total contributions to date so that you already have it on hand when a donor hits that $35 threshold.

 

For individuals who provide a contribution at this type of event and have not met the $35 threshold, this information is not required. The campaign can report the total amount of these under $35 contributions collected at the event as a lump sum contribution in the fundraiser section of the C-5 report, along with 1) the date of the event, 2) the event’s location, 3) a brief description of the event itself, and 4) the approximate number of attendees. For further guidance in reporting contributions received at fundraiser events, please reference this guide.

 

Remember that candidates cannot accept anonymous contributions. If you do not know the source of a contribution made to your campaign, the contribution should be donated to charity.

 

Q9: My campaign plans on holding a raffle fundraiser, with various items donated to the campaign by local businesses serving as the prizes. What are reporting requirements?

A: Like with any other fundraiser or mass collection event, any contributor who donates $35 or more to the campaign needs to have their name, address, occupation and employer information included on C-5 reports. Contributions of less than $35 can be reported as a lump sum amount with the date of the event, its location, a brief description of the event, and the approximate number of attendees.

 

Please note that with a raffle event, any items donated to the campaign must be listed as in-kind contributions. Donated items must be reported for their fair market value (or best estimate) from the individual or entity who donated them. For more guidance on raffles, please see this 2008 advisory opinion issued by Commissioner Unsworth. 

 

Q10: Are city candidates required to file campaign finance reports electronically?

A: No. Candidates for city offices are encouraged to file using the CERS electronic reporting system but are not required to do so. Please see this CERS section for additional information regarding the CERS electronic reporting system.  

8. Links of Interest

9. Have a question? Contact us!

Phone: (406) 444-2942
Office: 1209 8th Avenue, Helena, MT
General Email: cpphelp@mt.gov
Compliance Email: cppcompliance@mt.gov
Fax: 406-444-1643

Let's get social! We regularly post compliance tips, due date reminders, and information to make sure candidates and committees are prepared and confident to comply with all legal requirements.
 
Check out the latest news from the COPP office!



Committee Campaign Finance Information

Campaign Finance Laws

Campaign Finance and Practices
ARM Administrative Rules of the COPP, Title 44, Chapter 11: Campaign Finance & Ethics RulesConstituent Services Account Rules 
MCA: Title 13. Elections
     Chapter 1. General Provisions
     Chapter 35. Election and Campaign Practices and Criminal Provisions
     Chapter 37. Control of Campaign Practices

Ethics
MCA Title 2. Government Structure and Administration: Chapter 2. Standards of Conduct
ARM: Title 44, Chapter 10:
Code of Ethics Rules and Guidelines

Lobbying 
MCA: Title 5. Legislative Branch: Chapter 7. Lobbying
ARM: Title 44, Chapter 12: Lobbying Rules 

Understand the Campaign Finance Process

The COPP strongly advises committees to familiarize themselves with MCA and ARM campaign finance requirements (see previous section on Campaign Finance Laws) and these campaign finance guides:

- Montana Campaign Finance and Practices Laws (Blue Book)
- Accounting and Reporting Manual for Political Committees (Pink Book)

The Campaign Finance Process

Campaign Accounts and Banking Requirements
- The COPP's Inspection and Exam Process of Campaign Finance Reports
- How to Close out a Campaign Account

- How to Regain Access to CERS or ePass (if account info forgotten)
 

 

Guide to Committee Campaign Finance Forms

COMMITTEE CAMPAIGN FINANCE FORMS

The following is a list of report forms available to candidates from the Office of the Commissioner of Political Practices and a brief description of what each form is and where and when the form must be filed (available as a PDF):

- C-2 Statement of Organization (C-2 guide and paper copy): The C-2 Statement of Organization must be filed by all political committees who participate in Montana elections by making expenditures or receiving contributions. Form C-2 must be filed within five (5) days after appointing a campaign treasurer or making an expenditure to support or oppose a candidate or ballot issue, whichever occurs first, and must include the full name and address of the committee, the name and address of the bank the committee has opened an account with, the treasurer's full name and contact information, and all candidates or ballot issues supported or opposed and the date of those elections. Form C-2 must also denote the type of committee you wish to register as (Incidental, Ballot Issue, Political Party, and Independent)- to assist in determining the proper type of Political Committee to register as see MCA 13-1-101. A C-2 Statement of Organization can be filed in the CERS system.

- C-4 Incidental Political Committee Finance Report (C-4 guide): Form C-4 is the incidental committee finance report and must detail all contributions received and expenditures made by an incidental committee during a specific timeframe. C-4s are filed periodically according to calendar requirements, which can are found under the COPP's Reporting Calendars page.

- C-6 Political Committee Finance Report (C-6 guide): Form C-6 is the finance report that must be filed by political party, ballot issue, and independent (PAC) committees. Like the C-4, the C-6 must detail all contributions received and expenditures made by the committee during a certain time period. C-6s are filed according to calendar requirements, which can are found under the COPP's Reporting Calendars page.

- C-7 Notice of Pre-Election Contributions: Form C-7 (C-7 Form and Instructions) must be filed by:

  • Any political committee that receives $500 or more from a single source between the 26th day of the month before an election and the date of the election. This applies for both primary and general elections.
  • A Form C-7 must be filed within 2 business days after receipt of a contribution of $500 or more.
  • Form C-7 is filed in the CERS system

- C-7 E 24 Hour Notice of Pre-Election Expenditures (C-7E guide and form): 

  • Form C-7E must be filed by all political committees that make an expenditure or incur a debt or obligation of $500 or more for election material described in 13-35-225(1), MCA if made between the 17th day before the election and election day (13-37-226 MCA). 
  • Form C-7E must be filed within 24 hours after making the expenditure or incurring a debt of $500 or more.
  •  

INSPECTION AND EXAM PROCESS OF CAMPAIGN FINANCE FORMS

Montana campaign finance laws protect the public’s right to know who is paying to finance elections and how money is spent by campaigns. Candidates and committees ensure transparency in Montana’s democratic processes by periodically filing legally-required campaign finance information as campaign finance reports (C-4, C-5, C-6, C-7, and C-7E forms).

The COPP is mandated to review all candidate and committee financial reports (13-37-121[1], Montana Code Annotated). Once a campaign finance report is filed, the COPP inspects each report and sends the candidate or committee an Inspection Report.

The Inspection Report identifies any issues that the candidate or committee must address in their campaign finance reports in order to comply with Montana law. For example, an Inspection Report will alert candidates to items that require additional detail or information, items that may not be reported in the correct place or manner, or other potential issues. Click here to see a sample Inspection Report.

It is the responsibility of each candidate and committee to amend financial reports to ensure their compliance with Montana’s campaign finance laws. To learn more about the COPP's inspection and exam process, click here.

Committee Campaign Finance Resources, Guides, and Graphics

To best comply with campaign finance requirements, make sure to reference and familiarize yourself with the Montana Campaign Finance and Practices Laws (Blue Book) and the Accounting and Reporting Manual for Political Committees (Pink Book).

Contributions

- Contribution Limits, Graphic for Contribution Limits Per Election
- Reporting Fundraising Contributions
- Political Raffles

Expenditures

Paid Communications

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.

Campaign Finance Graphics

Independent Expenditures (PDF)


Paid Communications (PDF)

 

Contribution Limits Per Election (PDF)

Reporting Social Media (PDF)

Sample Committee Campaign

Sample Campaign

This sample campaign is designed for training purposes only. The CERS database system, which is where campaign finance reports are filed by candidates and committees, will be updated during the fall of 2019. Training guides will be updated to reflect the latest version of CERS.

- Montanans for Better Coffee (Committee)

Types of Committees

Ballot Issue Committee: 

As the name implies, a ballot issue committee is organized to support or oppose a particular ballot issue, including “initiatives, referenda, proposed constitutional amendments, recall questions, school levy questions, bond issue questions, or a ballot question,” 13-1-101(6) and (7), MCA. 

A statewide issue becomes a ballot issue “upon preparation and transmission by the Secretary of State of the form of the petition or referral to the person who submitted the proposed issue,” 13-1-101(6)(b), MCA.  A local issue becomes a local ballot issue "upon certification by the proper official that the legal procedure necessary for its qualification and placement on the ballot has been completed", 13-1-101(6)(b), MCA.  

Both statewide and local ballot issue committees must file a Form C-2, Statement of Organization, with the COPP within five days after the issue becomes a ballot issue, 1337-201, MCA.  A ballot issue committee's initial Form C-6, Political Committee Finance Report must include all contributions received and expenditures made by the committee since its date of foundation to qualify the issue for the ballot, 13-37-226, MCA. See Footnote 1 on page 8 for special district exceptions. 

As with other committees, a ballot issue committee must keep accurate records of contributions and expenditures, must comply with campaign finance and practices laws, and must file the appropriate finance report forms and disclosures.

Independent Committee: 

An independent committee means a political committee organized for the primary purpose of receiving contributions and making expenditures that are not controlled either directly or indirectly by a candidate and that does not coordinate with a candidate in conjunction with making expenditures except as within the contribution limits set in 1337-216(1), MCA, and 13-1-101(23), MCA.  

An independent committee is commonplace in campaign activities, both nationally and in the states. Frequently the committee is composed of employees of a common employer or members a particular profession or trade. These individuals contribute to their own committee for the purpose of supporting or opposing candidates and/or issues that the committee agrees on. Most independent committees participate in elections year after year. 

Political Party Committee: 

A political party committee is "a political committee formed by a political party organization and includes all county and city central committees", 13-1-101(31), MCA.  In turn, a "political party organization" "means a political organization that was represented on the official ballot in either of the two most recent statewide general elections; or has met the petition requirements, as provided in Title 13, chapter 10, part 5", 13-1-101(32)(a) and (b).  For the 2018 election cycle, the political party organizations that have qualified to be political party committees are the Republican, Libertarian, and Democratic Party committees.

These committees support candidates of their own party, oppose candidates of opposition parties, and support or oppose selected issues usually based on party platforms. 

Political party committees are similar to independent committees in terms of their wide ranging participation in campaigns; however, they are different in how they form and in their associational functions, which go beyond simply participating in elections. 

Limitations on contributions from political party committees do not include a coordinated expenditure made solely by a political party committee for personal services by paid staff that benefits the associational interest of the political party as well as a candidate, ARM 44.11.401. The value of the paid personal services is reportable by the political party committee and the candidate benefiting on their campaign finance reports. See example addendum in Part 5 of this manual, to submit the addendum please email the spreadsheet to CPPHelp@mt.gov, which will then become searchable through the hard copy search system. 

Example: the Montana Democratic Party hires interns to do literature drops for several candidates for the legislature. The Montana Democratic Party will have to report the amount of the paid personal services and report the value received by each candidate that benefitted from those services. The candidate will have to report the value as an in-kind contribution from the Montana Democratic Party as well. The personal services contributions do not count towards the aggregate political party contribution limit to a candidate. 

Incidental Committee: 

An incidental committee is a political committee that is not specifically organized or operated for the primary purpose of supporting or opposing candidates or ballot issues but may incidentally become a political committee by receiving a contribution or making an expenditure, 13-1-101(22), MCA. 

Example: A local Ace Hardware has an interest in a ballot issue that could impact the owner’s ability to conduct business. The primary purpose of Ace Hardware is to sell home improvement supplies, not support or oppose ballot issues. Ace Hardware writes a check to the organized ballot issue committee that is opposing the issue on the ballot for $1,000. In addition, the store owner decides that he will make some signs to put in his store window. By making these two expenditures, Ace Hardware incidentally became involved in a local election making it qualify as an incidental committee. Ace Hardware is required to register as a political committee and report the expenditures made to oppose the ballot issue.                               

 

Calendar with Committee Report Due Dates and Events

NOTE: Reporting dates for candidates and committees may change during the 2019 legislative session. This page will be updated to reflect the most up-to-date information.

Report calendars are available on this Reporting Calendars page:

  • - 2018 Candidate Report Dates
  • - 2019-2020 Lobbying Report Dates
  • - 2019 City Candidate Report Dates
  • - 2020 Candidates C-5 Report Dates
  • - School Candidate Report Dates
  • - Committee Report Dates

Navigate the CERS Campaign Finance System

The Campaign Electronic Reporting System (CERS) is a publicly accessible database where candidates and committees report the money they receive and spend to promote and oppose candidates and other ballot issues. To access the database to file a campaign finance report or search filed reports, click here

CERS resources

- CERS Instructions for New Users
- CERS 101: Simple Guidance
- 2018 CERS candidate PowerPoint

Complaint Information

COMPLAINT PROCESS, DECISIONS, DOCKET, AND PUBLIC INFORMATION

The COPP manages complaints concerning campaigns, lobbying, and ethics. The Commissioner has final determination as to whether a submitted complaint is accepted for filing. If accepted, the COPP conducts an investigation for campaign and lobbying complaints.  Please keep in mind that all accepted campaign and lobbying complaints are made public immediately upon acceptance. Investigations are not conducted for ethics complaints. Accepted ethics complaints filed against elected officials will also be made public immediately upon acceptance. Accepted ethics Complaints filed against State of Montana employees are not made public.

Learn more about the complaint process for:

FORMAL COMPLAINTS
Click this Docket of Formal Complaints to see:

  1. 1. Campaign Practice Complaints,
  2. 2. Orders of Non-Compliance,
  3. 3. Lobbying Complaints, and
  4. 4. Ethics Complaints.

DECISIONS
Click the below links for:

- Campaign Finance Decisions
- Lobbying Decisions
- Ethics Decisions
- Advisory Opinions
- Orders of Non-Compliance
- Response Letters 

RECENT DECISIONS, ORDERS, AND ADVISORY OPINIONS
Find all campaign finance decisions for download here
Find all ethics decisions for download here
Find all lobbying decisions for download here

- Johnson v. Hopkins - COPP-2018-CFP-056
- Eaton v. Olsen - COPP-2018-CFP-035
- Essmann v BCOC
- COPP-2018-CFP- 043
- Eaton v. Bishop - COPP-2018-CFP- 044
- GCD v. Buchanan - COPP-2018-CFP-055
- Hart v Pearson et al - COPP-2016-LOB-001 & 002
- Eaton v. McClafferty - COPP-2018-CFP- 045

INFORMATION REQUEST POLICY
   - Dissemination of Formal Complaints and Decisions
   - Confidentiality of Investigative Documents

Links of Interest and FAQs

Have a question? Contact the COPP!

Phone: (406) 444-2942
Office: 1209 8th Avenue, Helena, MT
General Email: cpphelp@mt.gov
Compliance Email: cppcompliance@mt.gov
Fax: 406-444-1643

Let's get social! We regularly post compliance tips, due date reminders, and information to make sure candidates and committees are prepared and confident to comply with all legal requirements.
 
Check out the latest news from the COPP office!