Montana Democrats broke campaign laws in 2008

2011-09-13T20:00:00Z 2011-09-13T23:35:09Z Montana Democrats broke campaign laws in 2008

By TOM LUTEY

Of The Gazette Staff

The Billings Gazette
September 13, 2011 8:00 pm  • 

Montana Democrats broke campaign disclosure laws in 2008 by using anonymous phone calls against a Billings Republican legislative candidate, the state’s political practices commissioner has ruled.

Commissioner David Gallik, in a recently issued ruling, concluded that the Montana Democratic Party called voters anonymously in 2008 to attack candidate Jack Sands for representing criminals. Sands, a defense attorney, lost his 2008 race to Sen. Gary Branae, D-Billings.

“These commercially funded telephone calls were clearly a form of general political advertising with the specific purpose to expressly advocate for the defeat of Jack Sands in the 2008 general election in State Senate District 27,” Gallik said in his ruling.

The commissioner said a civil penalty is warranted. A penalty has not yet been issued. At issue were calls placed to Billings voters on the Oct. 13-14, 2008. Absentee ballots had been issued and people were voting.

“Hi, I’m calling to make sure you know why state Senate candidate Jack Sands is bad for Billings,” went the call script. “Jack Sands is a lawyer who defends drug dealers and now he wants to cut the budget for state prisons. That means some criminals could go free. Jack Sands is wrong. So can we count on you to say no to Jack Sands for Senate?”

Voters who received the call weren’t given the “paid for by” information required by law. They had no way of knowing the Montana Democratic Party was behind the calls.

When Sands tried to find out who was behind the attacks, Bresnan Communications, which provided phone service to at least one of the voters called, indicated that the calls originated from Romania. Either that, Bresnan said, or the party making the calls was trying to mask its automatic number indicator, or ANI, which is what phone companies use to track calls issued by the Public Switched Telephone network. The ANI system used by phone companies and caller identification used by consumers is not the same thing.

Tuesday, Sands said he was disappointed in the way the commissioner of political practices investigation was conducted. In the three years since the election, Sands said he was never called by case investigator Julie Steab, other than last week when he was informed that a decision had been made. The investigator dismissed the issue of where the calls originated, stating that the investigation revealed “spoofing software” had been used to cover up the calls. That’s not what Bresnan had indicated happened in 2008, Sands said. The report doesn’t indicate who offered the spoofing software explanation.

“Bresnan has some expertise and they just discount that,” Sands said. “They never talked to us. They never talked to me.”

Contact Tom Lutey at tlutey@billingsgazette.com or 657-1288

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