Montana's political cop on Tuesday found Kimberly Dudik, a state representative from Missoula and Democratic candidate for attorney general, in violation of campaign practice laws for an email blast to university staff in May.
Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan wrote in his Tuesday opinion that a May 29 Dudik campaign email to University of Montana staff at their workplace was in violation of the state's campaign laws.
Mangan has referred the matter to the Missoula County Attorney's Office to impose either a civil fine or civil prosecution against her, although he acknowledged in the opinion that most cases are referred back to his office to negotiate a fine.
Dudik told the Missoulian on Tuesday her campaign cleared university addresses from their email list after a university employee responded to the campaign email on May 30.
"The campaign team fully strives to comply with all reporting and campaign finance requirements," she said in a text. "If there is any issue brought to our attention we readily attempt to address it as we did in this situation."
The campaign complaint was filed on June 12 by Missoula attorney Quentin Rhodes on behalf of UM staff. Tuesday's opinion also mentions UM staff who reached out to the Commissioner of Political Practices about the emails.
One of the employees had also responded to Dudik's email directly, saying he had not "requested any information" from the campaign, according to the commissioner's decision.
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"My campaign appreciated the University employee bringing this matter to our attention," Dudik said in a text. "As soon as we learned about the issue, we immediately addressed it and had all university employee email addressed removed from the email list so they would not receive any additional emails."
A similar matter was dismissed against U.S. House Rep. Greg Gianforte in 2016, during his Republican bid for governor. In that case, Gianforte had sent campaign emails to the Deer Lodge County staff in Anaconda, and done so knowingly by purchasing a government email list from the Montana Association of Counties.
But then-Commissioner Jonathan Motl dismissed the 2016 complaint for "excusable neglect" because his office had never issued a decision on a candidate purposefully blasting public employees' emails. The opposite was the basis for dismissing a 2000 decision, in which a gubernatorial candidate also sent emails to a government address by accident.
Because that case was considered an accidental distribution of campaign material to public employees, as opposed to Gianforte's deliberate email blast, Motl said in 2016 that distinction — which Mangan referred to as "the Gianforte test" — would be used going forward in determining whether a violation had occurred.
In this case, Dudik had taken the UM staff emails from their public availability online. In her response to the commissioner on June 19, Dudik said, "The campaign was under the impression that because these emails were publicly available in the manner they were, that it was permissible to use them to contact individuals."
Missoula Chief Deputy County Attorney Jason Marks did not have comment when reached Tuesday morning because he had not yet seen the commissioner's opinion.