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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. Campaign Finance Resources and Guides

1. 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

2. Disclosing 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

3. Disclosing Loans

Candidate Guide to Navigating CERS: Part 3: Add Contributions in CERS ("Loans" on page 9)

4. Disclosing Expenditures:

- Candidate Guide to Navigating CERS: Part 4: Add Expenditures in CERS
-  How to Report a Candidate's Personal Expenditure Made on Behalf of the Campaign (Report as a loan)
- 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

5.  Guide to the COPP's Inspection and Exam Process of Campaign Finance Forms

Inspection and Exam Process

6. 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)

3. 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

4. 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

5. Political signs: what is allowed? And how long can they be up?

What is the COPP's role with political signs? And what are the disclaimer requirements for political signs? (see the below information as a PDF)

 

When it comes to political signs, the COPP has jurisdiction only in upholding and enforcing attribution requirements. In other words, the only oversight over political signs that the COPP has is in ensuring the required “paid for by” attribution message is included, and that the expense is disclosed fully in a campaign finance report. The COPP does not have oversight over when citizens may begin to display political signs or when those signs must be taken down.

All paid campaign materials meant to support a candidate or ballot issue 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 identify the entity who financed the communication and their listed mailing address. Attribution requirements vary between candidates and committees. 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 must 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 informationMore guidance on  the “paid for by” attribution requirements is available on the COPP’s website. See Mont. Code Ann 13-25-225 and 44.11.601(2) ARM for the full attribution requirements and applicability.   

 

What is the role of local government in determining political sign timelines? (e.g. when signs can go up and must be taken down?)

 

The Office of Political Practices often receives phone inquiries regarding the timeline for placing political signs. As stated above, the COPP has no jurisdiction over when political signs may be displayed, and does not know the specific requirements for each Montana municipality. Local governments (I.e. a city council or county commission) are responsible for regulating when political signs may be placed and when they must be taken down.  Contact your local city or county government for more information.

The Montana Department of Transportation is responsible for sign regulations along Montana roadways or right of way (see the below information for more details).

 

What is the role of the Montana Department of Transportation (MTDOT) in regulating the placement of political signs on Montana roadways? 

(This information comes from a 2012 notices from the MTDOT's Right of Way Bureau)

Political campaign committees, and candidates are being reminded again about restrictions on where their signs can be placed. Signs on highway fences, utility poles, and otherwise on state right of way are not allowed and are being removed by Department of Transportation crews.

With landowner’s consent, political signs may be placed alongside the highway on privately owned land. Many signs are being placed in ditches or on the highway side of fences. State crews must remove them and store them until the owners can pick them up. Candidates, and their supporters should make sure their signs are placed on private property.

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 signs is the responsibility of the Department of Transportation. Failure to control signs brings the threat of federal sanctions and can disrupt highway improvement projects.

It is unsafe, and illegal to drive or park in a ditch along a highway to install a sign on private property. Within 30 days following the applicable election the signs should be removed.

The candidates' cooperation in adhering to the regulations, and statutes will benefit the Department of Highways, and the taxpayers of Montana.

Contact information:

- Right of Way Bureau: (406) 444-6055, www.mdt.mt.gov/mdt/organization/precon.shtml

- Rob Stapley, Bureau Chief – 406-444-6063     /     Gabe Priebe – Traffic and Safety Bureau Chief – 406-444-9252

 

What guidance do the Administrative Rules of Montana offer on political signs (see 18.6.246, ARM)

 

(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) Political signs must be removed within 14 days following the applicable election. The department 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. 

History: 75-15-121, MCA; IMP, 75-15-111, MCA; NEW, 1996 MAR p. 1855, Eff. 7/4/96; AMD, 2008 MAR p. 2476, Eff. 11/27/08; AMD, 2012 MAR p. 185, Eff. 1/27/12; AMD, 2016 MAR p. 1440, Eff. 8/20/16.

6. Candidate Frequently Asked Questions (File a Statement of Candidate, political signage guidance, fundraisers, etc.)

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 Statement of Candidate, 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: 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.

 

Q8: 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. 

 

Q9: Can my campaign accept a contribution from a business? 

A: It depends. Simply, it will always be easiest for a candidate to accept a contribution from an individual, and not a business. For example, if Russell, who runs Russell's Paint Supplies Emporium, writes your campaign a check from their personal account (and not their business account), this is reported as an individual contribution. 

 

If Russell gives a contribution from their business account, this would need to be reported in Schedule A as an individual business (under the "entity" dropdown tab) contribution. Russell's Paint Supplies Emporium must then file as an incidental committee by 1) filing in CERS as a C-2 Statement of Organization (the C-2 must be filed within five days of any of these activities: 1) appointing a campaign treasurer, or 2) making an expenditure to support or oppose a candidate or ballot issue). Russell's Paint Supplies Emporium must then also file period C-4 incidental committee finance reports. The C-4 discloses contributions received and expenditures made by incidental committees. 

 

Again, accepting a contribution from a business requires the business to file as an incidental committee, so candidates should encourage their contributors to use personal checks. 

 

Keep in mind that all corporate contributions, under any condition, are illegal for a candidate to accept. While corporations and unions are allowed to make independent expenditures related to a candidate, they are prohibited from making direct, in-kind, or coordinated contributions to a candidate, 13-35-227, MCA. Earmarked contributions by a corporation or union to a person as a contribution designated for a candidate’s campaign are also prohibited.

 

If your campaign inadvertently accepted a corporate contribution, the funds must be returned immediately upon discovery. To disclose this in CERS, the contribution would be reported as a business contribution in Schedule A, and then the amount is cancelled out by noting the amount refunded in Schedule B as an expenditure. A photocopy of the refund should be emailed promptly to the COPP at cppcompliance@mt.gov.

 

More information about illegal contributions (e.g. corporate and union contributions) is detailed on page 15 of the Accounting and Reporting Manual for Candidates and Treasurers. 

 

Q10: 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.

 

7. Links of Interest

8. 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!

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Candidate Campaign Finance Forms

The following is a list of candidate report forms and a brief description of what each form is and where and when the form must be filed (PDF of candidate forms).

1. Candidate Introductory Information on Campaign Finance Reports

The following tabs are a list of candidate report forms and a brief description of what each form is and where and when the form must be filed (available as a PDF). 

As of October 2019, and in accordance with 13-37-225 and 226 MCA, all candidates must:

 

2. File a Statement of Candidate (C-1 or C-1A), Option to File a C-3

Each candidate must file a Statement of Candidate. If any of the information in a Statement of Candidate changes, the candidate must file an amended form providing the new information within five days of the change (13- 37-204, MCA, 44.11.303(2), ARM)After filing a C-1 or C-1A Statement of Candidate, a candidate has the option to file (or not file) a C-3 Code of Fair Campaign Practices. Reference this Guide to Register as a Candidate & Banking Requirements for helpful filing and campaign details. 

 

C-1 Statement of Candidate: 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 any of these events first occur: money is received or spent, a campaign treasurer is appointed, or the candidate files for office. 
  • - Candidates who are required to file a C-1 Statement of Candidate are required to file C-5 campaign finance reports.
  • - Before filing a Statement of Candidate, make sure to reference the Candidate Registration Guide webpage for details about filing in CERS, paying your candidate filing fee, and more!  

 C-1A Statement of Candidate: 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 days after any of these events first occur: money is received or spent, a campaign treasurer is appointed, or the candidate files for office. 
  • - 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).
  • - ‘C’ box candidates are required to file C-5 campaign finance reports.
  • Before filing a Statement of Candidate, make sure to reference this Candidate Registration Guide webpage for details about filing in CERS, paying your candidate filing fee, and more!

 C-3 Code of Fair Campaign Practices (Sample C-3 Form): Candidates may file a C-3 in CERS at any time, but it is a voluntary form and is not required. 

3. Reporting Campaign Transactions and Fundraising (C-5, C-7, and C-7E Forms)

C-5 Candidate Campaign Finance Report (C-5 instructions and sample form): 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-1A.

  • - The C-5 reports must detail all contributions received and expenditures made by a campaign during a specific time frame.
  • - To help you file campaign finance forms confidently, reference the Candidate Guide to Navigating CERS.
  • - All candidates follow the same C-5 reporting calendar, which is available on the Reporting Calendars page.
  • - All candidates must file a closing C-5 report when all debts and obligations are satisfied and no further campaign activity is anticipated.
  • - To help you file campaign finance forms confidently, reference the Candidate Guide to Navigating CERS.
  • - Each campaign finance report is reviewed by the COPP. Learn about the COPP's inspection and exam process here

C-7 Notice of Pre-Election Contributions (Hard copy C-7 form for 2019 city candidates) (Sample C-7 form and instructions): 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) must file a C-7 disclosing this contribution. The C-7 must be filed in CERS within two business days of receiving the contribution.
  • EXCEPTION: Only 2019 city candidates have the second option of filing a hard copy C-7 with the Commissioner of Political Practices (forms must be mailed to PO Box 202401, Helena, MT 59620-2401).
  • - Reference the COPP’s Reporting Calendars page for a listing of the C-7 reporting dates relevant to your election(s).
  • - To help you file campaign finance forms confidently, reference the Candidate Guide to Navigating CERS.

C-7E Notice of Pre-Election Expenditures (Hard copy C-7E form for 2019 city candidates) (Sample C-7E form and instructions):: Form C-7E is the Notice of Pre-Election Expenditures and must be filed by:

  • As of October 1, 2019, any candidate who makes a campaign expenditure or incurs a debt of $100 or more between the 17th day before an election and the day of the election must file a C-7E  disclosing that activity (13-37-226, MCA). This applies for both primary and general elections. 
  • - Each C-7E must be filed within 2 business days of the expenditure being made or the debt being incurred. All C-7E Forms must be filed electronically in CERS.
  • EXCEPTION: Only 2019 city candidates have the second option of filing a hard copy C-7E with the Commissioner of Political Practices (forms must be mailed to PO Box 202401, Helena, MT 59620-2401).
  • - Reference the COPP’s Reporting Calendars page for a listing of the C-7E reporting dates relevant to your election(s).
  • - To help you file campaign finance forms confidently, reference the Candidate Guide to Navigating CERS.

4. Post-Election Campaign Finance Forms for Surplus Funds (C-8, C-118, and C-118C Forms)

For more candidate information on post-election (primary or general) options for campaign accounts, reference the post-election candidate finance guide. The guide includes information on how to settle outstanding campaign debts and loans, and how to navigate surplus candidate funds after a primary and general election. The information below on forms covers form options for surplus campaign funds. 

 

C-8 Constituent Services Reporting Form (C-8 form): Form C-8 is the Constituent Services Reporting form, which discloses any expenses made from an established constituent services account (learn more about constituent services accounts here).

  • - C-8 reports are to be filed quarterly with the COPP and are filed after a candidate has established a constituent services account filing form C-118C.
  • - 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): Form C-118 is the Disposition of Surplus Campaign Funds and discloses how candidates who filed C-5 campaign finance reports disposed of any and all surplus campaign funds.

  • - Within 120 days of filing a closing C-5 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 C-5 is filed. 
  • - Form C-118 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 Establish a Constituent Services Account (Form C-118C): Form C-118C is the form that allows an official who has been elected to public office to create a constituent services account (For more information, reference this constituent services guide).

  • - After filing a closing C-5 report, all candidates with surplus campaign funds are required to file either a Form C-118 or C-118C, pursuant to 13-37-240, MCA.
  • - A candidate that has been elected and has chosen to open a constituent services account must file a Form C-118C 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).

5. Required Disclosure Forms for Candidates and State Officials

 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-1 must be filed, according to candidate type, 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 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.

  

 

6. Access and Navigate CERS

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. Access CERS via this link. If you forget your ePass login information or cannot access CERS, reference this guide to regain access to CERS. 

To add in campaign finance information and file reports, familiarize yourself with the Candidate Guide to Navigating CERS. The guide 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

 

7. Inspection and Review 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 ensure transparency in Montana’s democratic processes by periodically filing legally-required campaign finance information as campaign finance reports. 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 inspection and review process, reference this Inspection and Exam Process guide. The guide covers: 

  1. 1. What is a CFR Inspection Report and why am I receiving one?
  2. 2. What is the difference between an Inspection Report and the "Exam?"
  3. 3. I have received a CFR Compliance Inspection or Exam from the COPP. What do I need to do?
  4. 4. I have received my CFR Compliance Inspection or Exam and I still have questions about what exactly I need to correct. Who should I contact?

8. Campaign Complaint Forms

Campaign Complaint Forms

Please see HERE.



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)
 

 

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

Political signs: what is allowed? And how long can they be up?

What is the COPP's role with political signs? And what are the disclaimer requirements for political signs? (see the below information as a PDF)

 

When it comes to political signs, the COPP has jurisdiction only in upholding and enforcing attribution requirements. In other words, the only oversight over political signs that the COPP has is in ensuring the required “paid for by” attribution message is included, and that the expense is disclosed fully in a campaign finance report. The COPP does not have oversight over when citizens may begin to display political signs or when those signs must be taken down.

All paid campaign materials meant to support a candidate or ballot issue 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 identify the entity who financed the communication and their listed mailing address. Attribution requirements vary between candidates and committees. 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 must 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 informationMore guidance on  the “paid for by” attribution requirements is available on the COPP’s website. See Mont. Code Ann 13-25-225 and 44.11.601(2) ARM for the full attribution requirements and applicability.   

 

What is the role of local government in determining political sign timelines? (e.g. when signs can go up and must be taken down?)

 

The Office of Political Practices often receives phone inquiries regarding the timeline for placing political signs. As stated above, the COPP has no jurisdiction over when political signs may be displayed, and does not know the specific requirements for each Montana municipality. Local governments (I.e. a city council or county commission) are responsible for regulating when political signs may be placed and when they must be taken down.  Contact your local city or county government for more information.

The Montana Department of Transportation is responsible for sign regulations along Montana roadways or right of way (see the below information for more details).

 

What is the role of the Montana Department of Transportation (MTDOT) in regulating the placement of political signs on Montana roadways? 

(This information comes from a 2012 notices from the MTDOT's Right of Way Bureau)

Political campaign committees, and candidates are being reminded again about restrictions on where their signs can be placed. Signs on highway fences, utility poles, and otherwise on state right of way are not allowed and are being removed by Department of Transportation crews.

With landowner’s consent, political signs may be placed alongside the highway on privately owned land. Many signs are being placed in ditches or on the highway side of fences. State crews must remove them and store them until the owners can pick them up. Candidates, and their supporters should make sure their signs are placed on private property.

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 signs is the responsibility of the Department of Transportation. Failure to control signs brings the threat of federal sanctions and can disrupt highway improvement projects.

It is unsafe, and illegal to drive or park in a ditch along a highway to install a sign on private property. Within 30 days following the applicable election the signs should be removed.

The candidates' cooperation in adhering to the regulations, and statutes will benefit the Department of Highways, and the taxpayers of Montana.

Contact information:

- Right of Way Bureau: (406) 444-6055, www.mdt.mt.gov/mdt/organization/precon.shtml

- Rob Stapley, Bureau Chief – 406-444-6063     /     Gabe Priebe – Traffic and Safety Bureau Chief – 406-444-9252

 

What guidance do the Administrative Rules of Montana offer on political signs (see 18.6.246, ARM)

 

(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) Political signs must be removed within 14 days following the applicable election. The department 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. 

History: 75-15-121, MCA; IMP, 75-15-111, MCA; NEW, 1996 MAR p. 1855, Eff. 7/4/96; AMD, 2008 MAR p. 2476, Eff. 11/27/08; AMD, 2012 MAR p. 185, Eff. 1/27/12; AMD, 2016 MAR p. 1440, Eff. 8/20/16.

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!


 

Committee Campaign Finance Forms

The following is a list of committee report forms and a brief description of what each form is and where and when the form must be filed (available as a PDF).

Committee Introductory Information on Campaign Finance Reports

The following tabs are a list of committee report forms and a brief description of what each form is and where and when the form must be filed.

As of October 2019, and in accordance with 13-37-225 and 226 MCA, all committees must:

File a Statement of Organization (C-2)

C-2 Statement of Organization: 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 days after any of these events first occur: a campaign treasurer is appointed, or an expenditure is made to support or oppose a candidate or ballot issue.
  • - The C-2 must include the full name and address of the committee, the name and address of the committee’s bank, 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 13-1-101, MCA.
  • - A C-2 Statement of Organization must be filed in the CERS system.

Committee Finance Reports (C-4, C-6, C-7, and C-7E)

C-4 Incidental Political Committee Finance Report (C-4 guide): Incidental committees file form C-4s to disclose all contributions received and expenditures made during a specific timeframe.

  • - Each county, municipal, and school district incidental committee is required to file periodic C-4 reports if contributions are received or expenditures made that exceed $500 combined.
  • - C-4s are filed periodically according to calendar requirements, which are found at the COPP's Reporting Calendars page.
  • - A C-4 finance report must be filed in the CERS system.

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.

  • - The C-6 details 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.
  • - A C-6 finance report must be filed in the CERS system.

C-7 Notice of Pre-Election Contributions (C-7 Form and Instructions):

  • Every political committee must file a Form C-7 if the committee 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 the contribution. Form C-7 is filed in the CERS system

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

  • Every political committee that makes an expenditure or incurs a debt or obligation of $500 or more for election material between the 17th day before the election and the day of the election (13-35-225(1) and 13-37-226, MCA) must file a C-7E. This applies for both primary and general elections.
  • - Form C-7E must be filed within two business days after making the expenditure or incurring the debt. Form C-7E is filed in the CERS system

Inspection and Review Process of Committee 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. Committees ensure transparency in Montana’s democratic processes by periodically filing legally-required campaign finance information as campaign finance reports (Forms C-2, C-4, C-6, C-7, and C-7E).

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

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

It is the responsibility of each 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.