Montana’s political watchdog finds Big Tobacco in violation of state campaign laws

The Montana Commissioner of Political Practices has found two out-of-state tobacco companies in violation of Montana’s campaign finance laws – a decision lauded by supporters of a ballot initiative aimed at raising the state’s tax on tobacco.

Jeffrey Mangan, the state Commissioner of Political Practices, found the parent company of Philip Morris USA and RJ Reynolds Tobacco violated state laws as part of their $9 million campaign against I-185, a state ballot initiative opposed by Big Tobacco.

The ruling, released on Sept. 5, contends that Altria, owner of Philip Morris, and RAI of RJ Reynolds, failed to file as an incidental committee within five days of engaging in campaign activity in opposition to I-185.

It also found that Altria failed to report travel-related expenses to lobby the Montana Chamber of Commerce in opposition to I-185.

“This commissioner, having been charged to investigate and decide, hereby determines that there is sufficient evidence to show that Altria Client Services LLC and RAI Services Company violated Montana’s campaign practice laws,” Mangan wrote. “The failure to fully and timely report and disclose cannot generally be excused by oversight or ignorance.”

Mangan has referred the violations to the Lewis and Clark County Attorney.

Opponents of I-185, which would raise Montana’s tax on tobacco products to continue health care coverage for thousands of residents, have billed the measure as an unfunded mandate.

However, supporters say that raising the tax would continue Medicaid coverage for an estimated 100,000 Montanans, decrease youth smoking, and provide funding to veteran nursing homes.

“The world’s largest tobacco companies have lied to the American people about how addictive and deadly their products are, they have lied about marketing to kids and now they are willing to violate Montana’s campaign finance laws to protect their profits,” said Chris Laslovich, the campaign manager for I-185.