Sidney state Rep. Joel Krautter on April 10 filed a campaign finance complaint against a Montana group, which he called a Political Action Committee (PAC), for alleged false representation.
The complaint against the group, registered as “Doctors for a Healthy Montana,” stems from an ongoing public campaign directed at Krautter alleging he voted for a bill that allows taxpayer funds to be used for abortions.
Krautter, who represents House District 35, responded to the allegations by filing a complaint against the group with the state’s Commissioner of Political Practices.
In his notarized complaint, Krauter categorized “Doctors for a Healthy Montana” as a “PAC.” In documentation filed with the complaint, Krautter accused the group of violating state law by misrepresenting itself and failing to adequately list the economic interests of a majority of its contributors.
“Contrary to its false and misleading name, the majority of contributors, are not doctors, but are actually politicians,” Krauter attested, citing four “contributors.”
The complaint — filed with Jeff Mangan, Montana’s commissioner of Political Practices — names Matt Regier, Keith Regier, Dan Bartel and Annie Bukacek.
“Of these four people, only Bukacek is a doctor,” Krautter’s complaint states. “All of the others are politicians.”
The dispute between “Doctors for a Healthy Montana” and Sidney’s state legislator reached a boiling point after an ongoing and highly visible public campaign against Rep. Krautter that includes a roadside billboard accusing him of favoring taxpayer-funded abortions.
At the heart of the matter is House Bill 658. Krautter voted in favor of reauthorizing the bill. The Medicaid reform law was necessary, he said, to keep from “terminating health insurance for 80,000 people” in Montana.
Krautter said Blue Shield insurance informed him that voting against HB 658 would cost the state $450 million in shortfalls.
Closer to home, he said representatives of a local hospital also encouraged him to vote in favor of reauthorizing the bill.
“The Sidney Health Center sent me a resolution, passed by the board of directors, to reauthorize the bill,” Krautter said in an interview with the Sidney Herald. “I did not vote for any taxpayer-funded abortions. That bill did not change abortion coverage at all.”
The accusation of supporting abortions is particularly troublesome, Krautter said, because he does not advocate them.
“I take any kind of accusation, or any kind of lies, seriously, and I want to get the truth out there,” the Republican lawmaker said.
Although the Kalispell-based group has a 1st Amendment right to publish pamphlets, post billboards and engage in social media discussions, it should be held accountable for all claims, Krautter said.
As recourse, he filed a complaint with the state commissioner of Political Practices challenging the group for claiming it represents multiple doctors.
“I looked at the campaign finance law and I looked at the group,” Krautter explained. “When they’re calling themselves doctors, doctors being plural, I felt that was a black-and-white violation...they’re misleading the public.”
“Doctors for a Healthy Montana,” in pamphlets and a public billboard, accuses Sidney’s state representative of voting to reauthorize abortions paid for with public money.
Krautter countered that HB 658 was supported by Catholic hospitals in the state. He also referred to a 100 percent rating he received from the Montana Family Foundation, a conservative non-profit organization.
“That bill did not authorize abortion,” Krauter insisted, pointing out the state’s Catholic hospitals would not support legislation that promotes the use of public funding for abortions.
“I think they’re just misinterpreting the law,” Krauter said of the Kalispell group. “If you look at their campaign reports, they’re spending money attacking.”
In filing a complaint against “Doctors for a Healthy Montana,” Krautter seeks to require the group to change its name. In addition, Sidney’s state representative is requesting the commission to “impose fines and penalties upon them for breaking the law in such an obvious, inappropriate, and deceptive manner.”
Krautter’s requests for recourse do not directly mention the billboard sign, social media posts or pamphlets accusing him of supporting abortion.
“We have a strong First Amendment, and they can continue to put up what they want,” he said. “Obviously, I disagree totally with the content of their message, but if they’re willing to mislead the public about their name, what else are they trying to mislead the public about? I think it goes right to their credibility.”
Krautter’s complaint states that “misleading and deceptive” advertising is causing him “irreparable harm,” hinting at possible legal action against the group if the state’s commissioner of Political Practices rules in his favor.
“I’m just tired of the lies to the public about my record,” Krautter said, pointing out the group’s actions are potentially harmful to Montana’s 80,000 low-income people and nearly 500 Richland County residents who rely on medical coverage resulting from reauthorization of HB 658.
“I just want to get the truth out there,” Krautter said, mentioning the COVID-19 crisis. “I don’t want anyone hurting our local hospitals.”
Asked why he thinks “Doctors for a Healthy Montana” is singling him out, given his conservative reputation as a Richland County Republican, Krautter was circumspect.
“It’s a way they can attack me, and, unfortunately, politics can get ugly sometimes,” the incumbent from Sidney replied. “I do have a 100 percent rating from the Montana Family Foundation.”