The Montana commissioner of Political Practices issued two rulings against registered independent committees that have publicly taken issue with Rep. Joel Krautter of House District 35.
The rulings by Jeffrey Mangan, Montana’s commissioner of Political Practices against Doctors for a Healthy Montana and Conservatives United for Richland County, are blows to the mutually connected groups.
Both groups have campaigned to discredit Krautter for voting to reauthorize House Bill 658, a Medicaid reform law. The contentious HB 658 allows abortions to be performed and paid for with tax dollars in cases of rape and incest, or when the life of a pregnant woman is in danger if she continues her pregnancy.
Clarification from Rep. Joel Krautter sent to the Editor on May 27, 2020:
"HB 658 simply continues an already existing state program which provides Medicaid coverage to people earning less than 138% of the federal poverty limit. The 2019 legislature simply reauthorized this 2015 Medicaid program, while adding reforms. As I’ve stated on numerous past occasions, Medicaid Reform did not change anything on abortion coverage in Montana and in fact abortion is not even mentioned in the 46 pages of the bill. The federal Hyde Amendment, which has been law since 1976, prohibits federal funds from being used for abortions, except in the limited cases of rape, incest, physical life of the mother."
On April 10, Rep. Krautter filed a complaint with the Political Practices commission against Doctors for a Healthy Montana. In the notarized complaint, Krautter charged the group with misrepresenting itself as plural, despite the appearance that it had only one physician on its board at the time of the initial finance report filing.
Doctors for a Healthy Montana later filed a second finance report in which it listed more than one doctor; however, Commissioner Mangan ruled in Krautter’s favor.
“This Commissioner, having been charged to investigate and decide, hereby determines that there is sufficient evidence to show that Doctors for a Healthy Montana violated Montana’s campaign practice laws,” Mangan stated in his decision.
In his Findings of Fact, Mangan wrote that Doctors for a Healthy Montana — in its finance report filed for the period of Jan. 1 through March 25, 2020 — had disclosed only one physician as a contributor to its political committee. In a second finance filing, the Kalispell-based group added three additional contributors, including two people listed as doctors.
“These three new contributors had listed occupations of Physical Therapist, Retired Doctor, and Manager (of an apartment complex),” Mangan noted in his Finding of Fact No. 3.
The findings of fact were followed by the statement: “This Complaint alleges that the name Doctors for a Healthy Montana fails to identify the committee’s economic or other special interest and misleads the public as to its contributor makeup.”
Citing the standard interpretation of existing Montana law specifying how political committees must comply with the state’s naming and labeling statute, Mangan ruled against Doctors for a Healthy Montana because it was not in compliance with the law for the period Krautter identified in his complaint (Feb. 24 to April 19, 2020).
The commissioner issued a “’sufficient evidence’ Finding and Decision justifying a civil fine or civil prosecution of Doctors for a Healthy Montana.” Mangan referred the matter to the Lewis and Clark county attorney “for his consideration as to prosecution.”
In a separate complaint filed with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices, Mangan also ruled against the defendant. The complaint was filed by Katherine Scholl of Florence, Mont., against Conservatives United for Richland County.
The commissioner found that “Conservatives United for Richland County did not file a financial report on or before March 30 or April 30, 2020,” as alleged by Scholl.
“The Commissioner finds Conservatives United for Richland County failed to timely file two campaign finance reports as required, a violation of Montana campaign finance law,” Mangan stated in his ruling, adding “there is sufficient evidence to show that Conservatives United for Richland County violated Montana’s campaign practice laws.”
Mangan stated that “a civil fine is justified” and referred the matter to the Lewis and Clark county attorney “for his consideration as to prosecution.”
In a press release issued by Rep. Krautter after the commissioner’s May 15 ruling in his favor, the HD-35 representative reiterated his charge that the name, Doctors for a Healthy Montana, was “misleading to the public” and in violation of state laws.
“I’m thankful for the Commissioner’s decision which confirms what I said in my complaint,” Krautter stated. “It’s now been documented that Doctors for a Healthy Montana will lie to the public. This goes to the group’s credibility, just like I previously said they were misleading the public about my pro-life record.”