- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 19, 2020

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - A secretive group that aired election ads including images of Attorney General Tim Fox, who is running for governor, violated state campaign laws, Montana’s top political cop said.

Ads by American Prosperity Group began airing on Spectrum cable television in late March, but the group has not registered with state or federal elections regulators, putting it at odds with state campaign laws intended to prevent anonymous spending in state politics, Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan said.

A Helena resident filed a complaint about the ads, which ran from March 24 through April 1, The Billings Gazette reported.

The Washington, D.C. law firm Dickinson Wright PLLC told Mangan it represents American Prosperity Group and argued the ad wasn’t considered an “electioneering communication” because the spending occurred more than 60 days before the June 2 primary.

However, ballots were mailed to all registered voters on May 8 because counties decided not to open polls due to the coronavirus. Any ads that appeared after March 9 would have aired during the electioneering period for Montana’s 2020 primary, Mangan found.

APG spent nearly $29,000 to air the ads, plus whatever it spent on production costs, Mangan’s findings said, meaning it should have filed as a Montana political committee and filed campaign finance reports, which would include donations and expenditures.

The May 15 decision orders American Prosperity Group to file as an independent political committee within five days and then file a campaign finance report. The political committee filing is due by Wednesday. The campaign finance report would be due by May 30, he said Tuesday.

The case has been submitted to Lewis and Clark County attorney’s office to determine if they will prosecute or return it to Mangan’s office for enforcement.

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