A complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission against Montana House Democratic candidate Rob Quist says he illegally coordinated with an unregistered political committee that distributed newspaper inserts aimed at reaching undecided voters.
The complaint was triggered by a Bozeman Daily Chronicle report on the newspaper insert, which was crafted by a group of Montana writers supporting Quist. The report states that the creators of the insert consulted with the Quist campaign on where it would most effectively reach undecided voters.
The 24-page paid insert, which can be viewed at WeTakeOurStand.org, is described on the website as "a rapid response anthology of Montana writers speaking out in favor of protecting public lands to support Democratic candidate Rob Quist."
It includes original writing and photography from forty contributors and public figures, such as a poem printed in the shape of a tornado by former U.S. congressman Pat Williams on protecting public lands. The group says that it raised nearly $10,000 to distribute the insert.
Joe Dooling, chairman of the Lewis & Clark County Republican Central Committee, filed the complaint with the FEC, stating that Quist's campaign illegally coordinated with the group and that the group failed to register its $10,000 worth of fundraising that was used to benefit Quist.
The complaint says the filing should be considered a "coordinated public communication," citing "material involvement" by the campaign in offering guidance on where to place the insert.
The coordination qualifies the money put towards the insert as a $10,000 in-kind contribution to the Quist campaign, according to the complaint, which goes on to point out that $10,000 is far beyond contribution limits set by federal law.
"Consulting with the Quist campaign to determine where to target the newspaper inserts falls squarely within the regulations," the complaint states.
"These respondents, including the Quist campaign, have utterly, willfully and knowingly disregarded the provisions of federal law enacted to protect the public from dark money, shadowy, and unaccountable organizations who disseminate campaign materials in the closing days before an election, without providing the legally required notice of the sources and amounts of the funds used to pay for such materials," the complaint says in its conclusion.
The website thanks a list of sponsors for the insert, but does not disclose details on any of their contributions. The group does not appear to be registered with the FEC.
The Quist campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
The Montana special election to fill U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's former seat will take place on Thursday.