Commissioner won't dismiss Miller campaign complaint

2012-05-10T12:21:00Z 2012-05-10T23:45:09Z Commissioner won't dismiss Miller campaign complaintThe Associated Press The Associated Press
May 10, 2012 12:21 pm  • 

HELENA — The commissioner of political practices is rejecting Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Miller's request to dismiss a campaign complaint, and warning his campaign to stop making automated telephone calls that are technically illegal.

Last month, a former Miller campaign worker accused the candidate of breaking state law by not fully reporting donations.

Earlier this week, the former state senator from Laurel asked the commissioner to dismiss the complaint, arguing he has proven the accusations from a disgruntled employee to be frivolous and false.

Commissioner Jim Murry assured him Wednesday that the investigation is "proceeding expeditiously." Murry has said he wants to wrap up the matter quickly so primary voters don't have any doubt over the matter.

Miller is engaged in a seven-way GOP primary, where he is wooing social conservatives with references to his strong religious beliefs and seeking the backing of tea party advocates based on his past voting record. Early voting started this week in advance of the June 5 primary.

Miller's campaign on Thursday also launched an automated telephone call campaign. One of the illegal calls went to the commissioner's office — just as it seeks resolution on the other complaint.

The so-called "robo-calls" are against state law, but commonly used by campaigns because they are rarely prosecuted. Miller is not the only candidate to place such calls this election cycle, but it is uncommon for them to be placed to the office of the state's ethics chief.

Murry said he forwarded the matter to Lewis and Clark County Attorney Leo Gallagher. The prosecutor said he first sends campaigns a warning letter to stop such calls, and although he has not prosecuted such cases in the past, he never rules out such an action.

Some political campaigns argue the robo-call ban is an unconstitutional restriction of speech. Such a claim would have to be tested in court, and prosecution of the calls could result in lengthy appeals, Gallagher said.

Miller said Thursday that he believed former Attorney General Mike McGrath issued an opinion declaring the robo-call ban unenforceable. But the attorney general's office said Thursday that no such formal opinion was ever issued.

In fact, in 2004 McGrath issued a press release reminding campaigns that such calls were illegal.

Miller, who gives out his personal cellphone in the automated telephone call, said he is getting mostly positive feedback from voters.

"Everyone agrees it is not a valid law," Miller said of the ban.

The campaign of former congressman Rick Hill, seen by many as the front-runner in the crowded GOP field, criticized Miller for the calls.

"It seems he even called the Office of Political Practices with one of his illegal robo calls, that's like rear-ending a cop car during the getaway of a bank robbery," said Hill spokesman Brock Lowrance. "Throughout this campaign Ken has invited everyone to call him on his cellphone, maybe Montanans should give him a call and ask why he is breaking the law."

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