Former finance director says Miller broke campaign laws

2012-04-23T20:09:00Z 2012-04-24T18:40:07Z Former finance director says Miller broke campaign lawsBy CHARLES S. JOHNSON Gazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette

HELENA — The former chief fundraiser for Republican Ken Miller’s gubernatorial campaign accused the campaign of breaking state law by accepting but not fully reporting donations over the legal limit and receiving “anonymous” donations from people using their debit and credit cards.

Kelly Bishop, of Polson, said Monday that she quit the Miller campaign as chief fundraiser and finance director after seeing things occur in the campaign that “made me sick to my stomach.”

“It basically comes down to my own ethics, morals and principles,” Bishop told the State Bureau. “If I’m going to be listed as their campaign finance chairman and fundraising director, and I see that there are discrepancies, I don’t want my name out there” with the campaign.

Miller, reached Monday night, adamantly denied the allegations as “frivolous (and) untruthful.” His campaign has properly reported and accounted for all donations and expenses, the former state senator from Laurel said.

It was unclear yet what impact the allegations, if true, might have on the seven-way GOP governor’s race with six weeks left before the June 5 primary. Miller, who enjoys the backing of a number of Tea Party members, trails former U.S. Rep. Rick Hill of Helena and former state Sen. Corey Stapleton of Billings in key fundraising numbers.

“We’re obviously viewed as a threat and seen as a front-runner,” Miller said in a telephone interview. “I think for the most part people will see through it.”

The story was first reported online Monday afternoon by the Great Falls Tribune.

Bishop resigned April 14 as the campaign’s finance chairman and chief fundraiser after attending the Lake County Republican Party’s Lincoln Reagan dinner with Miller. She also questioned whether the Miller campaign was fully reporting all of its expenses as required by state law.

She filed a complaint with the state political practices commissioner’s office last week, which has triggered an investigation.

Bishop said she noticed that some money she saw donated to the campaign by checks wasn’t reported on the C-5 campaign finance reports submitted to the political practices office. She estimated that $14,000 in money she saw being donated was never reported on the campaign finance reports.

“I inquired about it in March,” she said. “I brought it up to Ken and (his wife) Peggy at the time,” Bishop said. “They said it was none of my business and I was not to worry about that part of the campaign.”

In response, Miller said, “We’ve run an honest campaign and are confident that the COPP (commissioner of political practices) will agree.”

“We kind of got blindsided,” he said in telephone interview. “Unfortunately, she’s not being truthful.”

Miller said that if a donor inadvertently sent a contribution that exceeded the limit, the difference was refunded. He disputed Bishop’s allegation about people using credit and debit cards to make “anonymous” donations. Miller said the campaign did receive in the mail an anonymous letter stuffed with cash. It checked with the political practices office and donated the money to charity, he said.

Bishop first contacted the campaign asking to be considered for the job as his running mate for lieutenant governor, Miller said. He ultimately selected Public Service Commissioner Bill Gallagher of Helena, and said he thought Bishop’s qualifications were better suited for an open fundraising job.

She unfortunately “did not succeed in this position from a finance or interpersonal level, and there were issues with this for some time,” Miller said.

He said he is cooperating with the investigation, adding: “My family, campaign staff and I hold no ill will toward Mrs. Bishop, but are saddened by her decision to attack our campaign with frivolous, untruthful accusations.”

On April 18, Bishop filed a complaint with the Commissioner of Political Practices Office outlining her allegations. The commissioner’s office sent an investigator in Laurel on Monday to examine the Miller campaign records, she said.

She said she doesn’t know what the Millers’ “thought process” was when she confronted Miller about the issues.

“I would think you would want to show you are a good steward of the money and raising funds,” she said.

Bishop said she documented her complaint by sending a number of emails to the political practices office but was told by the staff to not discuss them publicly.

“Obviously the Commissioner of Political Practices office would not have gone to Laurel, Mont., today if there was not enough evidence to pursue the complaint,” she said.

Bishop, who owns real estate agencies in Polson and Livingston, has helped previous GOP statewide and legislative campaigns.

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