Yes for Cascade County Jobs found in violation of campaign practice laws

The Commissioner of Political Practices has ruled that Yes For Cascade County jobs violated Montana’s campaign practice laws.

Yes for Cascade County Jobs was the political action group created to advocate for the economic development levy, which failed on the November ballot.

The full decision is here.

In October, the COPP issued an order of noncompliance to the group for failure to file the required financial reports, failure to detail contribution and expenditure activity made by the committee, and failure to amend the C-2 statement of organization to properly reflect the committee treasurer.

Financial disclosure forms not filed on time, COPP issues order of noncompliance

The next step is to determine whether there are circumstances or explanations that affect the prosecution of the violation and/or the amount of the fine.

“The failure to fully and timely report and disclose cannot generally be excused by oversight or ignorance. Excusable neglect cannot be applied to oversight or ignorance of the laws as it relates to failures to file and report,” Mangan wrote in his decision.

A civil fine is justified, Mangan wrote, and the matter is referred to the Lewis and Clark County attorney for consideration of prosecution. If the county attorney waives prosecution or fails to prosecute within 30 days, the case goes back to COPP for possible prosecution or determining a fine amount.

Brett Doney, head of the Great Falls Development Authority and part of Yes for Cascade County Jobs, said, “I don;t think there’s anything we can do to fix errors of the report. We’re trying to keep current with reporting as we close things out, then we’ll have to deal with whatever decision is made. We already admitted that yes, we made errors and ate that. Can’t argue that, we screwed up.”

YCCJ contracted with Hilltop Public Solutions to handle the mailers and that company contracted the mailers out to a company in Billings. Hilltop is a national company with an office in Billings.

According to the COPP decision that was issued on Jan. 2, Commissioner Jeff Mangan contacted Brett Doney directly on Sept. 1, 2017 to discuss rules on contributions from businesses and reporting deadlines. Mangan followed up with an email that included the reporting scheduled, according to the decision.

At the end of October, the COPP was alerted to at least two mailers from YCCJ with Len Watkins listed as the treasurer. COPP reviewed the committee’s paperwork and determined that no reports had been filed, which had been due on Oct. 3 and Oct. 26. Further review indicated Watkins wasn’t listed a treasurer on their initial paperwork.

Mangan issued the order of noncompliance on Oct. 27, giving the group five days to file the required paperwork. On Oct. 31, Doney visited the COPP office in Helena and filed a financial report covering the dates Feb. 24-Oct. 31 showing YCCJ receiving $38,450 in contributions, with $17,856 in expenditures, leaving a $20,593 balance.

The report did not include the full color, double-sided flyers in the expenditure, according to the COPP decision. The reports were amended in November to cover the additional reporting periods and included $46,750 in contributions, but no expenditures.

The COPP office contacted Doney to discuss the mailers and according to the COPP findings of fact, Doney said the mailers were ordered sometime in October, but the invoice had been received in November. Later financial reports filed in November did not include the mailers, according to the COPP decision.

“The YCCJ failed to provide the public financial reporting in a timely fashion of contributions and expenditures in the approximate amount of $47,000 in support of a local ballot issue. Upon the issuance of an order of noncompliance, the YCCJ provided a portion of that reportable information but failed to fully report the scope and amount of the expenditures or debts the committee incurred. The filing remains incomplete as of the date of this decision. The committee remains under order to fully and completely report all contributions and expenditures until the COPP is satisfied the filing is complete,” Mangan wrote in his decision.