By Ross Markman
The Hill County Attorney's Office will not file charges against Havre Mayor Bob Rice and the local Republican Party for violating state campaign finance laws during Rice's mayoral run last year.
"My biggest reason is I just have too much personal involvement in the thing," County Attorney David Rice said today. "Now it goes back to Linda Vaughey. She can do anything that the law calls for."
Three weeks ago, Vaughey, the state political practices commissioner, determined that Rice and the Hill County Republican Central Committee violated limits on contributions from political parties and failed to include mandatory information in campaign advertising.
Vaughey could not be reached for comment today.
The complaint was filed on Nov. 6 of last year by Debi Friede, chairwoman of the Hill County Democratic Central Committee. The county GOP committee, Friede said last month, has a responsibility to know the law.
"Obviously, I'm disappointed," Friede said today. "It's still a violation. I guess (David Rice) felt he ruled in the best interest of the community."
In a press release issued today, David Rice, who is no relation to Bob Rice, said he agreed with Vaughey's findings. He declined to prosecute for several reasons, including the fact that he actively supported former Havre Police Chief Mike Shortell, Bob Rice's opponent in last year's mayoral election.
" All parties will feel more fairly treated if any further action on the case is pursued by Vaughey," the press release said.
In her findings, Vaughey concluded that some newspaper ads placed by Bob Rice and the GOP committee didn't include the candidate's party affiliation or the names of those who paid for the ads.
She also determined that the committee ads were not really "independent expenditures" because of close ties between Bob Rice's campaign and the committee. The cost of the ads should have been included as contributions to Rice's campaign, Vaughey said. The committee, she said, would have then exceeded the legal donation limit by $1,600.
Vaughey also said that Rice failed to report $237 in campaign spending in the time required after the November 2001 election.
None of the violations appeared to be intentional, Vaughey added.
Three weeks ago, Bob Rice said the complaint was a last-ditch effort to damage him and his campaign, and that he did not intentionally break the law.
"(The county attorney) made a judgment call and I don't know what takes place after this," Rice said today. "I just don't really have a response to it."
Brad Lotton, chairman of the Hill County Republican Central Committee, said three weeks ago the violations were inadvertent and that the allegations were a result of Hill County Democrats unhappy over recent political defeats.
"They don't really have a case, so it's not surprising," Lotton said of David Rice's decision. "Everything was kept separate like it was supposed to be. Hopefully now it's put to rest."