Deputy political cop finds $860 in Bullock campaign violations

2013-10-18T17:10:00Z 2014-05-27T14:51:38Z Deputy political cop finds $860 in Bullock campaign violationsBy CHARLES S. JOHNSON Gazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette

HELENA — A deputy political practices commissioner found sufficient evidence Friday that Gov. Steve Bullock’s 2012 campaign illegally accepted three donations from political-action committees that exceeded the legal limits.

Jay Dufrechou, a Helena lawyer appointed deputy commissioner for this case, said the illegal donations from the three PACs totaled $860.

He referred the matter to the Lewis and Clark County Attorney’s Office for prosecution. If the county attorney declines, the case will come back to him for resolution. The commissioner’s office and the candidates usually agree on a settlement that can involve a fine.

“There is no evidence of willful attempt to obtain or receive contributions in excess of statutory limits or to hide excess contributions,” Dufrechou wrote. “Given the number of contributions received in a gubernatorial campaign, mistakes of this nature may be understandable.”

However, citing office precedent, Dufrechou said the violations are not “excusable or de minimis (minimal).”

Kevin O’Brien, manager of Bullock’s 2012 campaign, acknowledged there had been a few bookkeeping errors, and pledged to rectify them with the commissioner’s office.

“Over the course of almost four years and with nearly 10,000 contributions, three bookkeeping errors were made and we agree with the commissioner that the mistakes are minor, unintentional and ‘technical,’ “ O’Brien said. “We’ll continue to work with the commissioner’s office to ensure these minor mistakes are rectified.”

Bullock’s campaign for governor raised a total of $1.86 million.

In a complaint filed in September 2012, Klaas Tuininga of Manhattan accused the Bullock campaign of illegally accepting and improperly reporting donations from 17 different PACs.

The Bullock campaign responded to the allegations in four written responses, asserting that none of the contributions Tuininga complained about was over the legal limits or improperly designated, and that it was not responsible for checking the registration status of its donors, the deputy commissioner said.

Dufrechou ultimately dismissed all but three of Tuiniga’s 17 allegations.

He concluded that the Bullock campaign had properly received and designated its contributions from 14 of the 17 PACs that were the subject of the complaint.

Dufrechou found that the campaign had improperly received or reported contributions from these three others:

The campaign improperly designated $300 of Pfizer PAC’s donation toward the general election campaign, exceeding the $630 limit by $220.

The campaign received a $600 donation from RAC Good Government Committee for the primary election, and an additional $660 donation for the general, which was $30 over the general-election limit. Bullock’s campaign submitted a letter from the PAC authorizing the $30 to go toward the primary election. Dufrechou said this letter was sent after Tuininga filed his complaint.

The campaign received donations from GlaxoSmith Kline PAC that exceeded the primary donation limits by $610. It also improperly designated the contribution, which is a violation.

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