Campaign posters placed at gas stations across Missoula urging motorists to vote against a local option fuel tax were funded by a political action committee with a Helena address, and they included a glaring omission.
The posters failed to include a “paid for” attribution, as required by law, prompting Robert Hamilton of Missoula to file a complaint with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices.
It’s unlikely a ruling for possible campaign finance violations will be reached before next week’s election.
“Transparency may seem like a small detail, but Missoulian’s have a right to know the petroleum industry is funding the ‘vote no’ campaign,” Hamilton said in an email.
According to the committee finance report filed with the state on April 8, the posters were paid for by the Citizens Against Local Option Gas Tax. The group is registered at a post office box in Helena with Brad Longcake – the executive director of the Montana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association – listed as treasurer.
The only contribution made to Citizens Against Local Option Gas Tax came from the Montana Petroleum Marketers Association. The contribution totaled $3,200 and was made on April 16. The group’s only expenditure was $3,121 on April 17. The payment was made to Alpha Graphics to print 250 yard signs and 20 banners.
Longcake couldn’t be reached Wednesday for comment. He has spoken against the local option fuel tax at past public hearings held by Missoula County commissioners.
“We are absolutely opposed to a local option gas tax,” Longcake said in a recent editorial. “This tax is not a viable solution to fund road construction and maintenance.”
Missoula County commissioners in March approved the local option fuel tax for June’s primary ballot. It would create a 2-cent per gallon fuel tax earmarked for road improvements across the county.
Missoula County estimates the tax would collect around $400,000 annually from tourists and net $1.1 million overall. Most of the money would go into a special account dedicated to road construction and maintenance while 1% would reimburse the retail fuel seller.
A group of Missoula businesses, operating as the “Fix Our Roads: More Jobs, Less Potholes” political committee, supports the ballot initiative.
“We know that infrastructure funding is a critical need for our community and supports business growth and quality of life,” a letter written by the coalition states. “There are limited sources of revenue for roads – almost all road maintenance funding comes from property taxes. The gas tax would be a new source of revenue that brings in money from outside the city and county.”