“A misplaced staple”: Montana Shooting Sports takes issue with state’s lawsuit

Gary Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association, disputes the findings of the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices and its lawsuit. (Freddy Monares/UM Legislative News Service)

The Montana Shooting Sports Association on Monday said it disagrees with the findings of the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices, saying “a missing staple” in a campaign document doesn’t warrant a $28,000 fine.

Political Commissioner Jeffrey Mangan filed the lawsuit last month in District Court after the Lewis and Clark County Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute the case. His lawsuit alleges the Montana Shooting Sports Association failed to file accurate reports in the 2014 state primary election.

Former commissioner Jonathan Motl made the initial determination in 2016 that the association violated campaign finance reporting laws.

Gary Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association, said Monday he hasn’t been served with Mangan’s complaint. Even so, he said, he disagrees with the commissioner’s findings on the deficiencies alleged in the case.

In the first, Mangan found the Montana Shooting Sports Association didn’t provide the commissioner with copies of reports it had filed with the Federal Elections Commission.

However, Marbut said his organization did provide the commissioner with all the required FEC reports, and it has since provided additional evidence that it did so.

“I provided the Commissioner of Political Practices with 10 years worth of reports,” Marbut said. “They failed to discover in their investigation that they had those in their files.”

The second charge in the case alleges the Shooting Sports Association didn’t properly supply the commissioner with a list of candidates mentioned in postcards sent by the organization to voters.

Marbut said he mailed the required documents in a single envelope, and the commissioner’s office said they were filed on time. However, Marbut suspects the list of named candidates was affixed to the wrong form.

“The commissioner’s decision admits that all required forms and lists were supplied by MSSA, and were received by (the commissioner’s office) in a timely fashion,” Marbut said. “The only remaining basis for any alleged deficiency is the assertion that the required list was attached to the C-7 when it should have been attached to the C-2.”

Even if the list of candidates were not attached to the C-2, but were simply contained in the same envelope, Marbut said, it would not warrant action by the commissioner’s office against the Montana Shooting Sports Association.

Marbut contends it was the commissioner’s office that affixed the list of candidates to the wrong form.

“The bottom line is, (the commissioner) wants MSSA to pay $28,000 and admit to being an outlaw because the provided list was not attached to the form C-2 instead of the form C-7,” Marbut said. “This entire affair ends up being more of a comment on the nature and actions of (the commissioner) than on the law-abiding character and actions of MSSA Political Action Committee – a $28,000 demand for a missing staple.”