Complaint claims Gianforte could have circumvented contribution limits
HELENA — With a little over a week before election day, a federal political action committee has filed a complaint against the Republican seeking to fill Montana’s empty U.S. House seat.
The committee, called End Citizens United, is alleging Greg Gianforte could have used the Gianforte Victory Fund to circumvent federal contribution limits in a complaint it says was filed with the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday. The Gianforte campaign has not received notice that the complaint was filed.
Gianforte is a Republican businessman from Bozeman who is running against Democrat Rob Quist, a musician from Creston. Libertarian Mark Wicks, an Inverness rancher, is also in the race.
The complaint stems from a call May 4 and first reported May 5 in the New York Times in which Gianforte told potential donors “if someone wanted to support through a PAC, our victory fund allows that money to go to all the get-out-the-vote efforts.”
The Gianforte Victory Fund is a a joint fundraising committee that includes Greg For Montana (the candidate’s group), the Montana Republican State Central Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee.
Joint fundraising committees make reports to the FEC, and contributions to the joint fundraising committees are listed on campaign reports as individual contributors as well as in the reporting of the lump disbursement from the joint fundraising committee.
The Gianforte Victory Fund filed a statement of organization with the FEC on March 17 but has not yet filed any finance reports.
“That money hasn’t been disclosed yet,” said Tiffany Muller, president and executive director of End Citizens United, which has endorsed Quist. “The deadline hasn’t come up yet. That’s why it’s important in these cases the FEC take a look at this.”
A candidate may accept up to $5,000 from a PAC and $2,700 from an individual in this election. A person can also contribute to a political committee as long as the contributor “does not give with the knowledge that a substantial portion will be contributed to, or expended on behalf of, that candidate for the same election.”
In this case, End Citizens United says that since Gianforte is the only Republican candidate on the ballot this May, it is clear all donations to the Gianforte Victory Fund or the Montana Republican State Central Committee will support his campaign.
According to the complaint, a Gianforte campaign spokesperson said “Greg was simply stating that they can support the party if they want” and that Gianforte was not referring to the Gianforte Victory Fund but the state central committee.
End Citizens United says that doesn’t change anything. If Gianforte is directing donors to contribute funds to the Montana Republican State Central Committee, it would still circumvent finance limits.
Both Quist and Gianforte swore off PAC money, though not from all types of PACs.
For example, End Citizens United is a PAC that has donated $5,000 to Quist’s campaign, which has said it will take money from ideological and labor PACs, according to a report from Roll Call. The same report said Gianforte’s campaign will take money from “political party and leadership PACs.”
Taking money from PACs is not illegal, but has been frowned upon in Montana politics because they are seen as a source of dark money.
According to its website, the FEC reviews every complaint on a case-by-case basis. If a violation has occurred, the outcome can range from a letter to a fine.
While the complaint raises questions about the possibility of circumventing federal contribution limits, it does not offer evidence of it happening, only explaining a situation under which it could occur.
Gianforte’s campaign strongly rebutted the complaint Tuesday.
“This group is a sham and the complaint is bogus. This is a 100 percent phony complaint filed by a shady partisan PAC that has endorsed, supports and is backing Rob Quist. This isn’t a valid complaint, it’s laughable,” said spokesman Brock Lowrance.
“This fake complaint is nothing more than campaign activity for Rob Quist,″ he said. “Quist’s campaign has become so desperate they are now using allies to file fake complaints to try and distract Montanans from the fact that Rob Quist has been caught trying to dodge property taxes and lying about his income on federal documents.”