HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The state commissioner of political practices said Friday a real-estate agent broke Montana campaign laws by spending $1,600 in newspaper advertisements seeking to unseat Missoula County school-board trustees, but his promise of $10,000 to challenge incumbents was not illegal vote-buying.
John Suprock ran the ads pledging a $10,000 "reward" to candidates interested in unseating incumbent trustees Scott Bixler, Toni Rehbein and Dranke Lemm in May's election.
Bixler filed a complaint with Commissioner Jonathan Motl, saying the ad did not have the proper disclosures and violated state law that says a person may not pay to induce another to be or refrain from being a candidate.
Suprock changed his first ad promising $10,000 in direct campaign contributions to candidates after he was told that would be an excessive amount to contribute. Instead, he pledged in subsequent ads legal independent expenditures of $10,000 without coordination with any candidates.
He never paid out the $10,000, but Suprock spent $1,600 to run the ads four times.
Motl ruled the amount spent on the ads means should have triggered the disclosure of the name and address of the person who paid for them under state law
"Mr. Suprock chose a bold and loud method of election speech," Motl wrote. "It is logical and fair, thereby promoting civic discourse, that Mr. Suprock would also announce to the public and candidates the name and address of the person paying for this statement."
However, Motl concluded Suprock's actions did not amount to illegally buying votes. The commissioner concluded that Suprock's promise was too indefinite to be considered an inducement to a voter.
Suprock solicited candidates with a $10,000 promise, but took no definite action to identify a candidate or to pay the money, Motl wrote.
Motl referred the violation to the Missoula County attorney. If the county attorney declines to prosecute, the matter goes back to Motl, where the penalty likely will be a negotiated fine.