“Missoulians for Missoula,” a PAC based in Helena, raises eyebrows with mailers

Mailers like this one, paid for by “Missoulians for Missoula,” went out to four voting wards in Missoula. The language is the same in each ward, with only the names being different. The PAC is based in Helena, has a bank in Helena and a treasurer in Helena, according to records on file with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices.

A political action committee funded primarily by two businesses and eight other donors has collected more than $11,000 to target four Missoula City Council candidates endorsed by local Democrats.

The PAC, dubbed “Missoulians for Missoula,” is listed as an independent committee with two Post Office boxes in Helena. It also lists its bank as Valley Bank of Helena and its treasurer as Katie Wenetta, also of Helena.

Wenetta didn’t immediately respond to an email Tuesday seeking comment.

According to the group’s most recent campaign finance report, on file with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices, the group has roughly $11,170 in the bank, far more than any individual candidate running for City Council.

Records show that Tollefson Construction of Frenchtown, listed as an incidental committee, gave $2,000 to the organization in mid-September. But the group’s single largest contributor is listed as Kiomi Burks, owner of Fuel Fitness, who gave $7,480 last month.

The Burks didn’t respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

Missoulians for Missoula formed in August and reported three expenditures during the last reported filing period. The group spent $535 on bookkeeping with Burnt Timber Consulting in Helena, and ordered checks from Harland Clarke, whose address is listed in San Antonio, Texas.

Its only local expenditure was $46 to UPS for a box rental.

But that could change during the October filing period, as the group has distributed campaign fliers across several Missoula voting wards.

The fliers target three candidates endorsed by Missoula County Democrats, including Ward 2 candidate Mirtha Becerra, Ward 5 candidate Alex Fregerio and Ward 6 candidate Nick Shontz.

The fliers offer the same wording but are specific to each ward. They label the candidates as being “wrong for Missoula” and suggest they support a sales tax and higher property taxes. They also suggest the candidates would “create more traffic problems.”

In contrast, the fliers contend their opponents will do the opposite and urge voters to cast their ballots by the November deadline.

Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan said it’s not every day that a PAC forms to participate in candidate races at the municipal level.

“I wouldn’t call it rare, but it’s certainly less common,” he said. “We do see more committees formed to support or oppose ballot issues rather than candidates at the local level.”

The candidates have participated in a number of public forums over the past few months, and while they disagree on a local option sales tax, none have said they support higher property taxes.

While the four candidates supported in the fliers are members of “Team Liberty,” headed by Ward 4 council member Jesse Ramos, Ramos said Tuesday he was only aware of Missoulians for Missoula and had nothing to do with it.

“I’ve heard about the PAC for a couple months now, but I don’t know anything about the inner workings,” he told the Missoula Current. “I know they’ve had some controversial mail pieces the last couple days. I’m not running the PAC, though I know a lot of the donors on it. I’ve just been working with the candidates right now. We just got our mail pieces out last week.”

A screen shot of the contributions listed under the Political Action Committee “Missolians for Missoula.”

Candidate spending and campaign income in latest filing report:

Ward 1

Heidi West reported $446 in expenditures this filing period and $1,885 in the bank.

Amber Shaffer reported $52 in expenditures this filing period and $2,267 in the bank.

Ward 2

Mirtha Becerra reported $623 in expenditures this filing period and $3,978 in the bank.

Brent Sperry reported $2,650 in expenditures this filing period and $759 in the bank.

Ward 3

Gwen Jones reported $0 in expenditures this filing period and $1,404 in the bank.

Drew Iverson did not report.

Ward 4

Amber Sherrill reported $52 in expenditures this filing period and $2,267 in the bank.

Alan Ault reported $0 in expenditures in his last report and $1,410 in the bank.

Ward 5

Alex Fregerio reported $2,344 in expenditures this filing period and $1,565 in the bank.

John Contos reported $1,463 in expenditures during the latest filing period and $800 in the bank.

Ward 6

No data was available for Nick Shontz.

Sandra Vasecka reported $10 in expenditures this filing period and $3,938 in the bank.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that cards have not yet been mailed in Ward 4 as first reported.