Backers of a Montana citizen's initiative that would add new mining regulations say a foreign-owned company is illegally bankrolling an industry campaign against the proposal.
In a complaint filed Tuesday with the Federal Election Commission, sponsors of Initiative 186 alleged campaign law violations by the Montana Mining Association, Sandfire Resources Inc. and others.
Sandfire Resources is an Australian company that's seeking through a Canadian subsidiary to develop the Black Butte copper mine near White Sulphur Springs. Foreign corporations are prohibited under U.S. law from donating to state, local or national elections.
Campaign finance filings show Sandfire Resources America contributed almost $18,000 to the "Stop I-186" political committee and more than $270,000 to the mining association, which also funds the committee.
Sandfire Resources America spokeswoman Nancy Schlepp said the money was paid through a Montana-based subsidiary, Tintina Resources Inc. The mining association did not respond to a telephone message seeking comment.
Initiative I-186 would require any new hard-rock mine to submit a plan with clear and convincing evidence that the mine won't require the perpetual treatment of polluted water once it ceases operations.
The FEC complaint was filed by David Brooks and Tom Reed with Yes for Responsible Mining and Trout Unlimited, which have been promoting the initiative.
"We have seen a lot of misinformation in this campaign," Brooks said. "Montana needs to know that's being funded by a foreign corporation that may be doing so illegally."
Tintina Montana executive Jerry Zieg said in a statement he disagrees with the assertion that the money constitutes a foreign investment in the campaign.
The campaign to defeat the initiative — funded by Sandfire and four other mining companies — spent about $828,000 in September and early October on ads. Initiative sponsors have spent one-eighth as much money.
The mining companies, which extract copper, silver, gold, platinum and other minerals, say the proposal's language is so vague that environmental groups will use the measure to prevent any new mines from being developed in Montana.