A conservative political group pushing for a national convention to amend the US Constitution has been found in violation of Montana’s campaign finance laws, after the state’s political watchdog said it failed to report more than $125,000 it spent on three Republican primary races.
Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan last week issued his findings that the Convention of States Political Fund failed to register as a political committee and didn’t disclose spending on political communications.
Mangan’s findings are now before the Lewis and Clark County attorney, who can decide to pursue them in civil court. Otherwise, the case returns to the commissioner’s office to negotiate a fine for the alleged violations or press the issue in court. This is standard in findings of campaign practice violations and most cases are kicked back to Mangan.
Campaign finance reports filed by the group in Michigan and additional documentation provided to Mangan’s office show it spent $126,752 on mailers, radio advertisements and research to support three Republican primary candidates, the findings state.
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Copies of campaign mailers indicated the group had also failed to properly attribute the source of the communications, Mangan found. But that violation was dropped after the Convention of the States Political Fund remedied the issue “by accepting responsibility for attribution oversight” and providing corrected copies of the communications to the political practices office.
The communications were all in support of three Republicans who won contested primaries for seats earlier this month. Two were in the Bitterroot: incumbent Sen. Jason Ellsworth of Hamilton; and Corvallis resident Wayne Rusk, who is running for House District 88. Incumbent Rep. Ross Fitzgerald, of Fairfield, was also the subject of supporting ads from the group.
“I certainly wasn’t aware of this,” Ellsworth said when reached by phone Tuesday. He said the phone call was the first he’d heard of the group’s efforts in the state, which included spending at least $45,000 to support his campaign. But he described the total amount they spent on three races as “substantial.”
Ellsworth voted in support of a Senate resolution during the 2021 session to call a of states, although the measure ultimately failed to pass on a 24-26 vote following a heated floor debate. He declined to indicate how he’d vote if it comes up again next session, but said he won’t be the one carrying the bill.
The 2021 measure sought to add Montana to a growing roster of conservative states that have called for a constitutional convention, to “impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government and limit the terms of office of its officials and members of Congress.”
Convention of States Action has pushed statehouses across the country to adopt a similar language. The goal is to call a convention to consider new amendments to the US Constitution, which is allowed under Article V by getting support from two-thirds of the state legislatures.
Convention of States Political Fund reached the spending threshold to register as a political committee in Montana on May 2, according to receipts it provided to the political practices office.
Mangan’s findings also note that although the political committee describes itself as being based in Michigan, it lists its mailing address, street address and treasurer’s address as all being in DC Montana law allows political committees to not file in Montana provided they are registered in their home state and the reports filed in that state meet Montana’s requirements.
The Convention of the States Political Fund isn’t registered in Washington, and Mangan added that even if it was a Michigan-headquartered political committee, the reports it filed there aren’t detailed enough to satisfy Montana’s disclosure laws.
Mangan’s June 16 decision also orders the Washington, DC-based political committee to register in Montana and file campaign finance reports within five days. No committee had registered under that name as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the political practices office’s online database. It’s unclear whether the group plans to do so. Parker Conover, an attorney representing the political committee, did not immediately return a phone call Tuesday.