HELENA — State Political Practices Commissioner Jon Motl issued another order Thursday related to his ongoing investigation of alleged illegal campaign spending by secretive “dark money” groups — but this time, he dismissed a charge.
Motl found there is “not sufficient evidence” to show that former state Rep. Tom Burnett of Bozeman accepted any illegal campaign donations in 2010 from Western Tradition Partnership (WTP) or its affiliates.
Motl also said Burnett’s interaction with WTP — or lack thereof — differed significantly from that of the several candidates already accused of illegally coordinating with the group and its affiliates.
The other candidates have been named in complaints that allege they accepted illegal, corporate contributions from WTP, which is a nonprofit group that promotes conservative causes.
WTP also has been labeled by critics a “dark money” group because it has not disclosed its donors or spending in relation to its campaign efforts.
WTP has attacked or supported a variety of candidates during Montana campaigns in 2008, 2010 and 2012.
Burnett, a Republican, won his 2010 race in House District 63 against Rep. J.P. Pomnichowski, D-Bozeman, but lost the 2012 election to Democrat Franke Wilmer.
Burnett is running again this year in House District 67, which includes part of Belgrade and suburbs north of Bozeman.
During Burnett’s 2010 race, his campaign distributed to voters a letter signed his wife, Melani, and his daughters promoting his election.
Bozeman resident Kent Madin filed a complaint against Burnett in December 2012, alleging the letters had been coordinated by WTP and were an illegal corporate contribution to the Burnett campaign.
Motl said that while some of his earlier decisions focus on candidates’ “wife letters” funded by WTP, Burnett’s letter was printed by a firm with no apparent connection to WTP.
Motl also said that Burnett reported paying $1.34 for each of the letters, or double the amount
charged by WTP.
In Motl’s earlier decisions, he has said the charge to candidates by WTP-affiliated printers for similar “wife letters” was far below the market cost, and therefore amounted to an illegal, unreported contribution.
Motl said he found no evidence of “direct WTP contact” with Burnett’s campaign, and that the campaign listed no expenses or contacts with WTP or its affiliates.