Political practices chief sues Montana Shooting Sports Association for campaign violations

The Missoula-based Montana Shooting Sports Association did not file accurate reports or properly identify its allegiances in the 2014 Montana legislative primary election, according to a lawsuit filed by the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices.

Commissioner Jeffrey Mangan filed the suit May 24 in Lewis and Clark District Court in Helena.

In August 2016, former commissioner Jonathan Motl ruled that the association violated campaign finance reporting laws.

Motl’s decision was referred to the Lewis and Clark County Attorney’s Office, which declined to prosecute, so by default the Office of the Commissioner of Political Practices was left to file the case.

According to the lawsuit, the Shooting Sports Association engaged in campaign activity in the 2014 Montana legislative primary that violated state campaign laws.

The complaint contends that the MSSA violated the Montana Campaign Practices Act after it failed to disclose the purpose of its political committee and so submitted an incomplete Statement of Organization on June 2, 2014.

The commissioner of political practices seeks a civil penalty of $500 against the association for that alleged violation.

Further, when the association did a direct mail campaign and did not disclose on the postcards whether it supported or opposed the candidates listed, it violated the Montana Campaign Practices Act, the lawsuit claims.

Commissioner Mangan is seeking a $1,500 penalty against the association for each of the 18 candidates identified.

The association also failed to itemize contributions it received at fundraisers, Mangan contends. The Shooting Sports Association did not itemize the approximate number of people or the method used to collect contributions at fundraisers, according to the complaint.

The association also violated state campaign reporting laws by failing to fully report expenditures in the 2014 election cycle, Mangan’s suit alleges.

Mangan asked the court to enter a $500 civil penalty against the association for each failure to report expenditures.

The association received $15,000 from the “It’s Now or Never Pac” in Houston during the 2014 election cycle, the lawsuit states.

Gary Marbut, president of the MSSA, could not be immediately reached for comment.