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Supporters, opponents of I-186 file campaign complaints against each other

Posted at 11:52 AM, Oct 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-20 13:58:58-04

HELENA – Supporters and opponents of a Montana ballot initiative on water treatment for hard rock mines have filed campaign practice complaints against each other.

Initiative 186 would require the operators of any new metal mine in the state to provide “clear and convincing evidence” their plan will prevent water pollution, without the need for “perpetual treatment” of acid mine drainage or other contaminants.

Yes for Responsible Mining, the committee supporting I-186, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission this week, claiming the opponents’ campaign was using foreign contributions.

The complaint focuses on Sandfire Resources America, the company developing the proposed Black Butte Copper Project near White Sulphur Springs.

The company is headquartered in Vancouver, Canada, and is a subsidiary of the Australian company Sandfire Resources. Complainants argued it is a “foreign national,” which federal law prohibits from making election contributions.

Sandfire America contributed $270,000 to the Montana Mining Association, which has made about $1.87 million in donations to Stop I-186 to Protect Miners and Jobs, the committee opposing the initiative. The company also made additional “in-kind” contributions to Stop I-186, by providing services.

Dave Galt, executive director of Stop I-186, called the complaint a “stunt.”

“The committee to stop I-186 is disappointed in this tack,” he said.

Stop I-186 has filed its own complaint with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices.

It argued Yes for Responsible Mining sent thousands of voters a text message promoting I-186, without including clear attribution of who paid for the messages. It also claimed the messages misrepresented the environmental risks under current mining laws.

Galt said his group received calls from a number of voters who received the messages and raised questions about them.

David Brooks, executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited and one of the leaders of the campaign for I-186, admitted Yes for Responsible Mining sent about 56,000 text messages.

He said the voters’ phone numbers were taken from the state’s voter file, and that the messages were sent by a staff member – not automated. He said they didn’t include an attribution statement because of the length limit on text messages.

“We had no interest in misrepresenting who we are,” said Brooks.

Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan told MTN News Friday his office hasn’t officially finalized its decision, but that they have concluded Yes for Responsible Mining didn’t provide the required attribution.

He said, if there isn’t space to include a full attribution statement in an electioneering communication, the people who put it out have to provide that information to his office first.

Mangan said Yes for Responsible Mining will have to retroactively provide the attribution information for the text messages. He expects the case to be finalized soon.

“From our last conversation, they’re doing everything we’ve asked of them,” Mangan said.

– Jonathon Ambarian reporting for MTN News