Republican Sandy Welch can use money from her party or any other source to cover the $115,000 cost of an anticipated recount in Montana's schools superintendent race, state officials said Thursday.
Welch came up 2,264 votes short of toppling incumbent Democrat Denise Juneau in the contest for superintendent of public instruction.
Juneau's slim advantage based on unofficial election results — 0.48 percent — is within the margin Welch needs to request a recount. And Welch's campaign said there were enough problems with delayed voting on Election Day that a recount would tip the balance in her favor.
However, under state law, the Republican will have to put up a bond to cover the costs because the difference is greater than 0.25 percent.
A statewide recount covering Montana's 56 counties would cost about 24.5 cents per ballot, the secretary of state's office said Thursday. With more than 468,000 ballots cast, that comes out to $114,798.78.
The figure exceeds what Welch raised during her entire campaign for a post that sets policy and steers funding for the state's K-12 schools.
Welch's attorney, Chris Gallus, raised concerns earlier this week about whether the candidate could come up with enough money if donation limits in place during the election were applied to the recount. Gallus suggested the state Republican Party could pick up some or all of the costs if the limits did not apply.
That option was validated Thursday in a preliminary ruling from the commissioner of political practices.
A representative of the commissioner's office said a recount does not fall under the same restrictions as the election process. As a result, money raised toward a recount would not be considered campaign contributions, said Mary Baker, program manager for the political practices office.
"Money raised for a bond in a recount is not intended to influence the election, so essentially there's nothing prohibiting the Republican Party from funding that bond," Baker said. Preliminarily, a bond definitely can be raised with party money or any way else. It's not considered a contribution."
Welch's campaign received oral notification of the determination Thursday and a written opinion will soon follow, Baker said.
Details on reporting requirements for recount donations still were being discussed. Baker said the matter could be moot because Gallus has suggested the campaign intends to be fully transparent.
In a Monday letter to Baker's office, Gallus wrote that Welch "intends to report all donations to and disbursements from a (recount) fund regardless of whether she is legally required to or not."
Welch campaign manager Mitch Staley said several supporters already have stepped forward to offer financial help. The state Republican Party has indicated it will cover the remainder of the costs, Staley said. That also will include attorney fees and other expenses beyond the costs incurred by the counties.
A recount cannot occur until after the vote is canvassed and the results certified Nov. 27.