HELENA – The state Democratic Party is alleging a Nevada-based consulting firm paid signature-gatherers earlier this year to qualify the Montana Green Party for the 2018 ballot, and violated state law by failing to report its involvement.
The Democratic Party made its allegations in a complaint filed with the state commissioner of political practices, whose office will investigate.
“It is clear that an out-of-state political firm with ties to the Republican Party and a history of misleading voters was hired to electioneer in Montana,” Democratic Party Executive Director Nancy Keenan said in a statement. “However, the names of who bankrolled this extensive effort are being hidden from the people of Montana.”
Last Friday, the commissioner also said the Green Party of Missoula apparently broke state law by failing to report receiving $2,000 to help gather signatures to qualify the party for the ballot – but it’s unclear yet how two cases may be related.
Montana Green Party officials have not returned telephone messages from MTN News.
In a written statement late Friday, the party said it was “unaware of any paid petitioning efforts taking place on our behalf.”
However, the statement made no direct reference to the Nevada firm, Advanced Micro Targeting, and did not say whether the party paid anyone to gather signatures that led to its qualification for the ballot on March 12, the final day for candidates to file.
In its only campaign-finance filing with the state so far this year, on Feb. 1, the Montana Green Party reported spending only $42 on “annual meeting supplies.”
The final-day qualification allowed six Green Party candidates to file for office March 12, including two for the U.S. Senate and one for the U.S. House.
Montana Democrats have said privately that they suspect conservatives helped the left-leaning Green Party qualify, so its candidates could draw votes away from the Democratic candidate in potentially close elections this year for U.S. Senate and U.S. House.
In last week’s complaint, the Democratic Party alleged that Advanced Micro Targeting, a firm based in Las Vegas, Nevada, paid 13 people who worked to gather about 9,500 signatures for the Green Party in three weeks, from Feb. 14-March 4, in four Montana cities – Missoula, Great Falls, Helena and Billings.
Those signatures made up the bulk of the Green Party’s successful effort to qualify for the ballot. The party needed signatures from 5,000 registered voters statewide and a minimum number from at least 34 state House districts.
It met the minimum in 38 districts, all in the four counties where the 9,500 signatures were gathered, and surpassed the statewide minimum as well, with 7,386 verified signatures from registered Montana voters.
The complaint said the signature-gathering effort of late February and early March has all the hallmarks of a professional operation, because of the high number of signatures gathered in such a short time at multiple locations – and because several of the signature-gatherers listed out-of-state addresses from as far away as Wisconsin.
One of the signature-gatherers was Cody Pope of Missoula, whose professional profile in the networking site LinkedIn says he is national campaign director for Advanced Micro-Targeting.
He also has listed himself as the state director for Marsy’s Law Montana – an operation that paid Advanced Micro Targeting $462,000 in 2015 to gather signatures to qualify a crime-victims’ rights initiative for the 2016 Montana ballot.
A call to Pope’s telephone number went to a voice-mailbox that was full and not accepting messages.
Montana Green Party Coordinator Dani Breck of Missoula told Lee Newspapers last month that the Green Party of Missoula accepted $2,000 from the national Green Party to help qualify for the Montana ballot.
An order Friday from Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan said the Green Party of Missoula is in “noncompliance” with state law for not filing as a political committee or reporting its donors and expenses.
The commissioner’s office said Monday it’s been in contact with the Green Party of Missoula to attempt to resolve the issue.