Legislator files campaign finance complaint against Missoula mayoral candidate

Rep. Elli Hill, D-Missoula

A prominent Missoula legislator filed a complaint with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices late Wednesday suggesting mayoral candidate Lisa Triepke was not properly reporting money raised and spent during her campaign.

State Rep. Ellie Hill, D-Missoula, contends that Triepke is not in compliance with state finance disclosure laws in her bid to serve as the city’s mayor.

“Ms. Triepke has submitted insufficient reporting and sometimes completely omitted campaign expenditures in violation of Montana law,” Hill wrote in her complaint. “In a race for Missoula’s mayor, where the city budget seems to be a much-debated issue, it seems that nothing in the Triepke expenditures is property itemized nor labeled.”

Hill, who helped pass the Montana Disclose Act in 2015 to reform the state’s campaign finance laws and rid elections of dark money, believes Triepke is hiding more than $10,000 in a “pass-through” expenditure made to Spiker Communications.

The firm has branded itself as catering to “winners.” Its owner, Wes Spiker, was highly critical of the Missoula community in a recent editorial, during which he urged voters to support Triepke.

In that editorial, published on Sept. 13 by the Missoulian, Spiker omitted that his firm had received $10,923 from Triepke’s campaign on July 25. Hill believes the firm is playing a larger but undisclosed role in Triepke’s campaign.

She’s asking the Commissioner of Political Practices to make the determination.

“Dark money is a shotgun to the gut,” Hill said Thursday, quoting a fellow legislator. “That’s what this kind of stuff is, it’s non-transparent money spent at a local level. None of it is disclosed on what Spiker is actually doing. They’re required to itemize that.”

Missoula mayoral candidate Lisa Triepke

In campaign finance forms filed with the state, Triepke has not disclosed Spiker’s role in her campaign or how the firm is spending the money, other than to say “advertising.” But her campaign’s practices over the past two months suggest the firm is doing more than advertising.

In the past, Triepke has declined to discuss campaign issues on the phone but has directed questions through her campaign email, held by Spiker.

When she sat for an interview with the Missoula Current last month, the interview was held at Spiker’s office on Brooks Street. Wes Spiker and one other person insisted on sitting in during that interview, saying they distrusted the media.

Messages left for Wes Spiker on Thursday morning weren’t immediately returned. Messages left for Triepke’s treasurer, Diane Beck, also weren’t immediately returned. Triepke was reached later in the day (see related story).

Mayor John Engen also offered a lump-sum payment of $15,000 to Brock Consulting, which is listed as campaign services on finance reports on file with the state. Hill said the difference between Engen’s $15,000 expenditure to Brock Consulting and Triepke’s expenditure to Spiker Communications is hidden in the details of the state’s campaign finance rules.

“Engen has disclosed that (Brock) is managing the campaign,” Hill said. “He has also disclosed other expenditures for media, print material and signs. The Triepke campaign is not making these same disclosures. They are using a ‘pass through’ disclosure.”