I’m still working on the full story for tomorrow’s Tribune, but here’s a sneak peak.
According Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Dennis Unsworth, there is “substantial evidence” that Montanans in Action violated the state’s campaign finance reporting and disclosure laws by refusing to disclose the source of the $1.2 million the group spent on three ballot initiatives in 2006.
Unsworth released the findings of his three-year investigation today.
You can read the full 105-page report here.
Butcher called Unsworth’s investigation and report “petty bureaucratic harassment.”
This is from a MIA press release sent out early this afternoon:
Trevis Butcher, director of Montana's in Action, today condemned a report filed by the Commissioner of Political Practices Dennis Unsworth as "nothing more than a political payback vendetta for stepping on the toes of big government by supporting term limits on Montana politicians."
The three ballot initiatives MIA supported in 2006 were scrapped by a Great Falls District Court judge who ruled that out-of-state signature gatherers used fraud and deception to get the measures on the ballot.
All along opponents of the measures sought to find out who, exactly, was behind them. One initiative would have made it easier to recall judges. Another would have limited state spending. The third one would have changed the state’s “takings” laws.
Butcher’s opponents, including Gov. Brian Schweitzer, have long asserted that the funding source for MIA’s activities in2006 was Americans for Limited Government, a political group financed by New York real estate mogul and libertarian activist Howard Rich.
Unsworth’s report details connections between Rich’s Americans for Limited Government and Montanans in Action’s 2006 initiative campaign, but stops short of claiming that Rich or his organization directed the activities of MIA.
Unsworth said Butcher and ALG were uncooperative in his investigation. Unsworth draws this interesting conclusion from MIA and ALG’s refusal to cooperate with the investigation:
The 2006 tactics suggest that the proponents of CI-97, CI-98, and I-154 may be more interested in seeking to invalidate campaign reporting laws that require public disclosure of the true source of money used to finance express campaign speech.
Unsworth said his next step will be to take them to court and get a judge to compel Butcher to hand over more information.
Butcher told me today that he’s ready for that fight.
“I honestly see this as a witch hunt and we’re going to stand up to it. Our legal team is right now reviewing this, and we’ll obviously be prepared for whatever is ahead.”
You can read my full report in tomorrow’s Great Falls Tribune.