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Political cop: Gianforte violated campaign finance laws

October 21, 2020 GMT

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana gubernatorial candidate and Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte violated campaign finance laws by moving money from his primary election account to his general election account before paying all of the debts owed by his primary campaign, the commissioner of political practices found Tuesday.

Gianforte then continued to raise money to repay primary debts, including loans he made to his campaign, another violation, commissioner Jeff Mangan found in a complaint filed two weeks ago by the Montana Democratic Party.

The investigation found Gianforte’s campaign transferred nearly $181,000 from his primary to his general election campaign on June 15 while his primary campaign still had $1.58 million in debts, including $1.55 million in personal loans made by Gianforte to his campaign.

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A campaign must show that all primary debts are paid before any leftover primary funds can be used for general election expenses, the Montana Democratic Party noted in its complaint.

Under Montana campaign finance rules, candidates may continue to accept primary election contributions only if the campaign still has outstanding primary debts and only uses the contributions to pay off primary campaign obligations.

Gianforte’s campaign said it moved the remaining candidate loan proceeds from the primary to the general account, so it had no further primary expenses to pay. However, the campaign continued to raise primary election contributions and didn’t report the loans as being forgiven, Mangan said.

“The campaign’s response seems to indicate they do not view the candidate loans as a primary (election) obligation,” Mangan wrote. “Without that obligation, however, the Gianforte campaign would be unable to solicit and accept primary election contributions.”

Mangan said the campaign must either apply the $181,000 to his primary campaign or refund all primary campaign election contributions received after the primary, for a minimum total of $137,000.

The campaign has 14 days to decide, Mangan said.

“We’ll respond to the commissioner by the deadline and amend any reports as needed,” said Travis Hall, Gianforte’s campaign spokesman, who confirmed Gianforte was raising money to pay back loans to the campaign.

A finance report filed by Gianforte’s campaign on Tuesday revealed the candidate loaned $4 million to his campaign in the last month. That brings the total sum Gainforte has loaned to his campaign to $7.5 million.

Gianforte is running against Democratic Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney in the Montana gubernatorial race.

“After dumping more than $7.5 million of his personal fortune into his campaign, Greg Gianforte intentionally tried to skirt Montana’s campaign finance limits — and he just got caught breaking the law, again,” Cooney for Montana Campaign Manager Brad Elkins said.

Cooney has been found to have violated campaign laws twice, once for participating in a Democratic Governors Association strategy meeting while in his state office and then for accepting website design by the DGA without reporting it as an in-kind donation.

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This story has been corrected to show the investigation found Gianforte’s campaign transferred nearly $181,000 from his primary to his general election campaign on June 15, not May 15.