6 June 2017 — 1641 mdt
A strategic complaint to discourage liberals from political participation?
Election day is approaching. Your candidate, running neck and neck with a man who would return us to the days when Kings were in charge and peasants knew their place, needs help from his friends to pass the election post first.
Your telephone rings. It’s your brother-in-law. “Hey, Dan, it’s George. We’re putting together a newspaper insert to help Bob Lyst. The content’s in place, but we’ve gotta raise $9,000 by Tuesday. We really need your help. $500? All right! Hot Damn! Thanks Dan. Give Jane my love. Gotta make more calls.”
Dan raises the money. The insert runs. Bob Lyst loses. And adding injury to insult, a week later you, and everyone else involved in creating and financing the insert, receive from the Federal Elections Commission a copy of a complaint alleging that the insert was coordinated with Lyst’s campaign, thereby violating campaign finance law.
That scenario’s no improbable hypothetical. It actually happened at the end of, and after, Montana’s special U.S. House election that concluded on 25 May. Yesterday, the Montana authors and donors behind We Take Our Stand, a 24-page ode to public lands endorsing Rob Quist that was inserted into newspapers in Bozeman, Kalispell, and Libby, began receiving copies of the complaint that Republican leader Joe Dooling filed against them accusing them of illegal coordination with Quist’s campaign. They also received a copy of the FEC’s policy on preliminary procedures for processing a complaint. They have 15 days to respond or seek an extension.
Joe Dooling is a Helena area farmer and former legislative candidate who currently chairs the Republican Central Committee in Lewis and Clark County. He signed the complaint, which is dated 23 May and was the subject of a 24 May story on KXLH, but I strongly suspect a Republican lawyer specializing in election law wrote it.
The complaint — which is nothing more than a set of private accusations at this point — strikes me as unusual in that it targets the insert’s authors and underwriters as well as the insert’s organizers. In the example that begins this post, Dan trusts, as all of us would trust, that the organizers correctly filed all the necessary paperwork before asking for money or words. Therefore, why go after everyone? The answer, I suspect, is that former Democratic Rep. Pat Williams is among the luminaries — he contributed a short poem to the insert — as is a former state senator, and the opportunity to force them to hire an attorney to defend themselves was irresistible. And going after everyone may discourage contributions to liberal causes in the future. Dooling’s may be a strategic complaint against public participation.
I imagine the people named in the complaint are lawyering-up. I would. If and when the documents prepared in their defense come over my transom, I’ll publish them on Flathead Memo.