Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices has dismissed a complaint against Greg Gianforte, a Republican Candidate for Governor in the upcoming election.
A few days after Gianforte declared his candidacy in August, a Butte resident filed a complaint claiming Gianforte had broken the law by hiring campaign staff and registering a web site months earlier, without filing required campaign reports.
In an interview the day after he entered the race, Gianforte denied making any improper campaign expenditures: “The campaign really starts with me filing, which has happened this week” Gianforte told MTPR's Eric Whitney in August.
Political Practices Commissioner Motl agreed. After looking at the evidence and talking to the candidate, he ruled that hiring a staff member and reserving a web site called gregformontana.com don’t amount to campaign spending that has to be reported:
“Mr Gianforte was engaged in deciding whether or not he wanted to be a candidate for governor,” Motl said, "he was using his own funds, but he never declared his candidacy for governor.”
If the web site had been called “Gianforte for Governor” instead of “Greg for Montana”, Motl says he would have ruled differently. “An individual is free to explore a candidacy”, he says, as long as they don’t explicitly collect or spend campaign funds, or declare their intentions.
Motl hopes his ruling will serve as guidance for future candidates who are confused over reporting requirements.
“I think what it actually does is it clarifies how all the different statutes and rules work together” Motl said “and hopefully then it'll make it easier for candidates in the future, and also for the news media, which is fairly frustrated by people who are deciding whether they’re going to run or not, because you want to know if they're going to be a candidate or not and I think a lot of Montanans probably want to know that too."