Gov campaigns hit with campaign-finance violations

Gianforte, Cooney dinged for accounting errors
Posted at 11:37 AM, Oct 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-21 13:37:39-04

HELENA — Montana’s campaign-finance cop says both major-party candidates for governor have made accounting mistakes that violated campaign-finance laws – although the order involving Republican Greg Gianforte concerns a lot more money.

Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan said Tuesday the Gianforte campaign hasn’t properly reported or used as much as $182,000 in donations for the primary election. That portion is 1.5 percent of his $11 million in campaign income.

That portion either must be used to pay off debts from the primary, or the campaign must refund money it has raised since the June 3 primary to pay off primary debts, Mangan said.

And, in an order last Friday, Mangan said the campaign of Democrat Mike Cooney improperly accepted a $710 donation, in excess of legal limits, and didn’t report another in-kind donation from the Democratic Governors Association.

In both cases, Mangan said he would attempt to negotiate a civil fine for each campaign, for committing the violations.

Cooney’s campaign said it mislabeled the source of $710 donation and would correct that error, so the donation does not exceed legal limits. It also said the in-kind donation from the DGA is less than $35. Cooney has raised about $3.4 million for his campaign.

Mangan ruled on complaints filed against Cooney by the state Republican Party and another group.

In the Gianforte case, a state Democratic Party complaint said he had improperly transferred primary-election funds to the general election and then used that money for general-election expenses – while still collecting donations for the primary account.

Mangan said there is no evidence that the Gianforte campaign used any primary-election money for the general election. The two pots of money are kept separate, because state law limits how much money a donor can give for both the primary and the general elections.

But Mangan said the campaign transferred $182,000 from its primary account to the general election in June, while still having outstanding primary-election debts – while it continued to raise money for the primary, to pay off those debts.

The campaign cannot do both, he said. Either it must use the $182,000 to pay off some of its primary debt or refund all of the $137,000, or more, that it has raised since the primary to pay off primary debts, he said.