By HDN Editorial Board
Some angry statements have occurred as a result of findings by Commissioner of Political Practices Linda Vaughey that the Bob Rice for mayor campaign and the Hill County Republican Central Committee violated some state campaign laws during Rice's successful run for office last year.
The investigation was done after Hill County Democratic chairwoman Debi Friede filed a complaint with the commissioner's office.
In the interest of clarification, here's a summary of the commissioner's findings:
A number of Rice ads did not have all of the information required by Montana law pertaining to who paid for the ads. (Although the commissioner of political practices holds the candidate responsible for making sure the disclaimer information is displayed on all campaign material, we note that advertising in the Havre Daily News omitted the required information, an oversight our advertising people regret that they didn't catch.) The commissioner's report said: "There is no evidence to conclude that Rice's failure to comply with the disclaimer requirements was anything other than unintentional error and, perhaps, a disregard for the importance of campaign filing requirements and his compliance responsibilities."
Some of the ads paid for by the Hill County Republican Central Committee did not contain the necessary disclaimer. Again, there was no evidence of intent to mislead, but the commissioner's office admonished the party for not paying more attention to the rules.
The Hill County Republican Party exceeded the amount it could spend on behalf of the Rice campaign by $1,603.48. The party could legally spend $500. It spent $2,103.48.
The party's expenditures were considered "coordinated expenditures" because the party and Rice discussed the ad purchases in advance. If the party had made the expenditures without coordinating with Rice, the $500 limit would not have applied.
" during the investigation the HCRCC officers and the candidate were forthcoming and candid regarding the content of their discussion with one another; and the Commissioner is satisfied that no willful intent to circumvent the campaign contributions limits existed," the report said.
"Rice under-reported expenditures for campaign advertising to the extent of outstanding obligations to the Havre Daily News in the amount of $157.29 and Bear Paw Publishing in the amount of $80.00," the report said. Those amounts should have been reported Nov. 28 but were not reported until about six months later.
The commissioner's comments make clear that she believes the Rice campaign and officials in the Hill County Republican Party simply didn't pay enough attention to the rules and did not intent to violate the law.
Now they know better, and we suspect they won't make these types of mistakes again.
It's up to Hill County Attorney David Rice to decide if anyone should be prosecuted for violating state campaign rules. Many people will be interested in that decision.
We urge the leadership of the Republican Party to become extremely familiar with the requirements of the law. As the commissioner wrote, " a political party committee that has as its very premise for existence the goal of effecting the outcomes of elections must be cognizant of campaign finance and practices statutes and diligently adhere to disclosure requirements."
We urge all participants in the political system to adhere completely with the law, wither it applies to disclosure, financial reporting or signs.