HELENA — The commissioner of political practices says that Republican candidate for governor Ken Miller, a former state senator from Laurel, has been funding his campaign with illegal donations that included anonymous, corporate and excess contributions.
Miller derided the findings as a politically-motivated attack just four days before the primary.
The case stems from a complaint that originated from within the campaign itself in April. Miller's former fundraiser accused the campaign of not fully reporting campaign donations.
Miller is a favorite of social conservatives in a crowded GOP primary that also featured former congressman Rick Hill and former state Sen. Corey Stapleton of Billings. Miller derided the findings as a politically-motivated attack. Commissioner of Political Practices Jim Murry issued a decision Friday that finds sufficient evidence that Miller broke several campaign finance laws. More than a half-dozen campaign finance laws were broken in the process, the commissioner's office found.
The complaint was first filed by former Miller treasurer Kelly Bishop. At that time, Miller had called them the "frivolous, untruthful" allegations of a disgruntled employee who wanted to be his running mate for lieutenant governor. Bishop, who owns real estate agencies in Polson and Livingston and has helped previous GOP statewide and legislative campaigns, said she quit the Miller campaign after raising the issues. Her complaint in April said that about $14,000 donated to the campaign wasn't reported on the campaign finance reports.
Miller said Friday that the commissioner's office was being used as a "political tool."
"None of the allegations made are substantiated," Miller said in a statement, without going into specificis. "The not-so-veiled purpose of the very carefully worded findings, which are in dispute, and the extraordinary timing of their release, just four days before primary election day, is a brazen yet anticipated effort to derail the momentum of the Miller/Gallagher primary campaign."
Murry, in a 17-page statement of findings, found the allegations to have merit. Among the findings:
• About 20 donations exceeded the maximum contribution allowed by law, such as a $1,200 donation from a political campaign committee that was twice the allowable amount.
• Campaign donations in some cases were never reported on finance reports.
• The campaign received several small anonymous donations, which are illegal.
• The campaign received free hotel rooms from a Super 8 in Missoula that the commission determined was a contribution from a corporation, which is not allowed by law.
• Campaign expenses were illegally paid by Ken Miller and his wife, Peggy, even though neither was registered as the campaign treasurer as required by law. Some expenses were never reported as required.
The commissioner noted that Miller, who has previously run for statewide office and was once chairman of the Montana Republican Party, is not new to the requirements of campaign finance laws. The findings come just days before Tuesday's primary election and as Miller wrapped up a week of campaign events with tea party favorite Sharon Angle of Nevada.
Recently, Miller was also chastised by his opponents for placing automated "robocalls" that are also against state law — but still commonly used by candidates every election cycle because sanctions have not been enforced on them. One of Miller's calls went to the commissioner of political practices office while it was investigating the campaign finance complaint, Murry said.