The group behind mailers in support of Montana Supreme Court candidate Laurie McKinnon has spent $41,865 on the effort as of May 14, according to a disclosure filed with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices.
That sum exceeds the $36,834 McKinnon herself has raised through May 16, according to her most recent report.
The mailers portrayed McKinnon, a Choteau-based District Judge, as nonpartisan, and they highlighted campaign contributions to Democrats made by McKinnon’s opponents, Great Falls attorney Elizabeth Best and state public defender Ed Sheehy.
The group, Montana Growth Network, spent $19,000 with Richmond, Va.-based Desumo Strategies, which on its website lists as its one goal “Putting Republicans like you in office, at every level.”
Montana Growth Network was not required to disclose its donors in its filing, and the group’s treasurer, Republican state Sen. Jason Priest of Red Lodge, said he would disclose the donors only when required to do so. That disclosure may or may not be required later depending on the activities of the group, he said.
Collaboration between such groups and the candidates they support is illegal, and McKinnon has said there has been none.
Sheehy disputes the assertion in the mailer that he has contributed only to Democrats in partisan races. He said he has donated to former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot as well as to Dick Haines, who served in the legislature as a Republican and now is on the Missoula City Council, which elects members in nonpartisan races.
Priest said he stands by the accuracy of the mailer.
“In all partisan records races we can find records for, both Ed Sheehy and Elizabeth Best always contribute (to) the Democratic candidate,” he said by email.
But Haines, reached at his home in Missoula Tuesday, said he was certain Sheehy had donated to him in partisan legislative races.
“He’s supported me in every race I’ve run,” he said of Sheehy.
The nonpartisan National Institute on Money in State Politics supports Haines’ and Sheehy’s recollection, with its website indicating Sheehy made donations to Haines, running as a Republican, in 1998, 2000 and 2002.