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Dark Money Group Found In Violation Of Campaign Law

DarkMoney.jpg
Montana Free Press
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HELENA — Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan issued a decision on Friday, May 15, stating that the organization behind a late-March cable ad mentioning Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Fox violated state campaign practice law. The organization, American Prosperity Group, purchased $28,837 worth of Montana airtime through cable provider Spectrum between March 24 and April 1, but did not register with the state as a political committee and did not file a finance report disclosing details about its fundraising and spending.

“By failing to file as a political committee and file 2020 committee finance reports, APG has deprived both the public, candidates, and competing committees of significant reportable contribution and expenditure activity,” Mangan wrote in his decision.

Mangan also found that APG failed to include adequate information in the ad’s attribution — specifically the name of the group’s treasurer and its address — and ordered APG to file the appropriate paperwork within five days. As of Sunday afternoon, a search for APG in the Office of Political Practices’ online database turned up no results, nor did a search of the Federal Election Commission’s database. Montana Free Press could find no website or online mention of a political organization named American Prosperity Group.

The complaint that triggered Mangan’s decision, which was lodged by Jeffrey Oestreicher of Helena, centered on an ad that depicted Fox and encouraged viewers to call him and tell him to “keep standing with President Trump to protect Montana families.” The ad did not directly state support for or opposition to Fox’s gubernatorial bid, and so falls into the category of “electioneering communication,” a type of paid communication defined by state statute as depicting a particular candidate or referencing a candidate, political party or ballot issue within 60 days of the initiation of voting in an election.

In response to the complaint and subsequent decision, Fox’s campaign stated Sunday via email, “We do not have any affiliation with this group.”

On April 29, Mangan’s office received a letter from APG through its legal counsel, Charlie Spies with the Washington, D.C.-based firm Dickinson Wright PLLC, arguing that the ad does not qualify as electioneering communication because it aired more than 60 days before the June 2 primary. Spies identified APG in that letter as a nonprofit “conservative public policy advocacy organization,” and included 16 pages of invoices documenting the Montana ad buy.

“Based on all available information,” Spies wrote, “it is abundantly clear that APG has fully complied with Montana law and not triggered Montana regulation as a result of its advertisement.”

So-called advocacy nonprofits are not required under federal law to disclose their donors, hence the more common colloquial term “dark money” groups.

Spies previously served as chief financial officer and counsel to Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign before co-founding the Romney-supporting super PAC Restore Our Future in 2010. He also worked as treasurer and general counsel for the Jeb Bush-aligned Right to Rise USA super PAC during the 2016 primary cycle. Spies’ work with super PACs, which can raise unlimited amounts of money but are legally barred from donating to or strategizing with candidates, landed him a shared No. 2 spot on Politico’s “Politico 50” list of political influencers in 2015.

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This story comes courtesy of Montana Free Press and is published under a BY-NC-ND 3.0 US Creative Commons license.

About Alex Sakariassen

Freelance writer Alex Sakariassen has spent the past decade writing long-form narrative stories that spotlight the people, the politics, and the wilds of Montana. A North Dakota native, Sakariassen splits his free time between Missoula’s ski slopes and the quiet trout water of the Rocky Mountain Front. Contact Alex by email at alex.sakariassen@gmail.com.

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