A primary election contest that spilled over into the campaign finance arena has led to potential fines for the Republican state auditor candidate who won and another GOP candidate.
The state’s Commissioner of Political Practice Jeff Mangan determined last week that the winning candidate, Troy Downing, had seven violations while another candidate who lost, Scott Tuxbury, had one violation. The state auditor is also Montana’s commissioner of securities and insurance.
It is now up to Mangan to determine whether to impose fines or to negotiate penalties or corrective action with the campaigns, he said in an email Tuesday.
Downing failed to provide opposing candidates with copies of a campaign direct mail promotion and a television advertisement that mentioned them and were used within 10 days of the primary election, in violation of Montana’s Clean Campaign Act, Mangan said. Such violations can lead to fines up to $500, or three times the amount of the unlawful expenditure, whichever is greater.
Downing also failed to report the cost of about 33,000 direct mail campaign promotions and the money spent on television ads aired in the days before the June primary, said Mangan.
Mangan also found Downing did not report the purchase of 25 bottles of hand sanitizer as an in-kind donation to, or expenditure by, his campaign.
The “Troy Downing for Montana” stickers on the hand sanitizer bottles did not include the required “paid for by” language, while a Facebook ad did not say Downing was a Republican, Mangan said.
Downing’s campaign manager, Sam Loveridge, said a former opponent’s campaign manager filed a “litany of complaints” against Downing’s campaign, for issues that Loveridge labeled as “administrative at best.” Downing’s campaign replaced some vendors and employees following the complaints, Loveridge said Monday.
“The Downing campaign at no point in time purposely or knowingly fell out of compliance and continues to actively work with the COPP to follow all election laws and regulations,” Loveridge said.
Tuxbury’s campaign manager, John Perkins, filed four complaints against Downing over three days starting on May 27, a day after Loveridge filed the complaint against Tuxbury’s campaign.
Downing’s campaign had released a statement on May 22 alleging Tuxbury violated campaign finance laws. It said: “The auditor should be focused on transparency and advocacy, not hiding campaign funds and violating Montana’s campaign practices.”
Mangan said Tuxbury failed to disclose details of a $79,000 in-kind contribution to his campaign. Tuxbury’s May 19 campaign finance report did include the in-kind contribution, but it said the description of the contribution was in an addendum that was not filed with the report, Mangan found.
Tuxbury’s campaign did not return an email sent Tuesday seeking comment. It was not immediately clear how much that campaign could be fined. Mangan said he negotiates fines based on the severity and numbers of violations and how quickly they are corrected.
Downing pleaded guilty in 2018 to buying in-state hunting and fishing licenses when he was not a Montana resident.
The offenses for buying the hunting licenses that are cheaper than those for non-Montana residents happened between 2011 and 2016. As part of a plea agreement, Downing was fined just over $2,000 and forfeited his hunting and fishing privileges for 18 months.
Downing faces Rep. Shane Morigeau, D-Missoula, in the general election auditor race that will be decided in November.
The incumbent auditor, Republican Matt Rosendale, is running for Montana’s lone U.S. House seat.
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