GOP will raffle Pasma sculpture to raise money
By Ross Markman
The Hill County Republican Central Committee will raffle the art of their former adversary and is planning a bake sale both in an effort to raise the $2,500 it may have to pay in fines because the committee and Havre Mayor Bob Rice allegedly broke state finance laws during his mayoral campaign last year.
In a July 17 letter to Rice and committee chairman Brad Lotton, Montana assistant attorney general James Scheier said a court could assess a civil penalty in excess of $11,000. Linda Vaughey, the state political practices commissioner and the person recommending the fine, "is willing to accept a combined civil penalty of $2,500 to resolve this matter and to avoid litigation," the letter said.
"The commissioner is authorized to file a civil action seeking a penalty of $500 or three times the amount of the unlawful or unreported expenditures, whichever amount is greater," the letter added.
Vaughey refused to comment today and referred reporters to the attorney general's office. Scheier also refused to comment, because the matter is pending litigation, he said.
In May, Vaughey determined that Rice and the Hill County Republicans violated limits on contributions from political party committees and failed to include mandatory information in campaign advertising.
Rice, Vaughey said, exceeded contribution limitations by $1,603.48. He also under-reported his campaign ads by $237.29, Vaughey concluded.
Although it was planned prior to Vaughey's decision, the local Republicans are using a fund-raiser to help raise the money needed to pay off the fine she assessed. A bronze made by former Hill County Democratic Central Committee chairman Jim Pasma will be raffled and given away during the annual Lincoln Day Dinner in February. Raffle tickets are $5 each.
Proceeds from the sale "will be used to bring balance to the local political hierarchy," Lotton said in a press release today.
In June, Vaughey referred the allegations to the Hill County Attorney, who after a couple of weeks decided not to file charges against Rice and the local Republican Party.
County attorney David Rice, no relation to Bob Rice, sent the issue back to Vaughey, saying he was too closely involved. David Rice admittedly supported Bob Rice's opponent, Mike Shortell, in the mayoral race.
"All parties will feel more fairly treated if any further actions on the case are pursued by Vaughey," David Rice said in a press release last month.
Though she's recommending a fine, Vaughey, according to Scheier's letter, concluded that there was no evidence that Bob Rice and the GOP committee intended to mislead the public.
"The statute, however, authorizes prosecution of negligent as well as intentional violations," Scheier's letter said.
Lotton said the penalty was unwarranted.
"We're appalled at the severity of the fine for an unintentional error," he said. "What we are guilty of is changing the political climate in Hill County by bringing balance and giving voters an opportunity to elect dedicated, effective leaders."
The charges, Lotton said, are only partially true. Bob Rice did fail to report the additional $237 in campaign spending in the time required, Lotton said.
"But the allegations about the expenditures are untrue. We didn't mix the campaigns," he added.
Rice refused to comment on the penalty. In June, he said he was unsure what would happen after the county attorney's decision.
The complaint against Rice and the Republicans was filed on Nov. 6 of last year by Debi Friede, chairwoman of the local Democratic Party. The county Republicans, Friede said then, have a responsibility to know the law.
"I'm glad it's over. It's been a long haul," Friede said today. "I think (the penalty) is just fine. I'm just glad that its over."