A Republican group that supports state legislative candidates said in a court filing earlier this week if the Green Party is removed from the ballot in Montana, three Republicans will have a harder time winning general election races this fall.
The Montana Republican Legislative Campaign Committee, represented by outgoing Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen, R-Culbertson, filed to intervene as a defendant in a lawsuit filed earlier this month by the Montana Democratic Party against the state of Montana and the Montana Green Party.
In the lawsuit, the Montana Democratic Party claims the Montana Green Party didn't gather enough valid signatures to qualify to get its candidates on the ballot this year and asked a judge for an injunction to get the Green Party kicked off ballots.
The Montana Green Party needed to gather 5,000 signatures from at least 34 of the state House districts to qualify for the ballot. Though Secretary of State Corey Stapleton certified 7,386 signatures from four counties, Democrats argue the Green Party gathered enough valid signatures from only 30 of the state House Districts, not the 34 required.
A decision on the injunction is not expected before the June 5 primary. Having the Green Party on the ballot in the general election, which is Nov. 6, can be seen as dangerous to the Democrats because the party could siphon away more-progressive voters from candidates like Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, who is expected to face a tight race.
In court filings, the Republican legislative committee said if the Green Party is removed from the ballot, the GOP will be "forced to spend significantly more financial resources" in three legislative races where Green Party candidates are also running "to attempt to convince voters to vote for the Republican Party candidate over the Democratic Party candidate."
Three Green Party candidates are running in legislative districts in Missoula, Hamilton and a district that includes parts of both the Flathead and Blackfeet Indian reservations. John Gibney, the Hamilton candidate, has been denounced by the Green Party over bigoted remarks he's made.
The court filing later notes that "The Montana Green Party woos and attracts voters from largely the same voting blocks as the Montana Democratic Party, thereby taking votes away from the Montana Democratic Party candidates and increasing the likelihood of a Republican Party candidate in those races."
Danielle Breck, Montana Green Party coordinator, said on a call with reporters Friday she feels Democrats and Republicans are far more similar to each other and that the Green Party serves its own constituents and shouldn't be viewed as just siphoning votes away from other parties.
Breck said the Democrats' lawsuit is "using us as a pawn" and is "just horrible behavior, the same old political game they've played for decades."
The Green Party in Montana is not aware, Breck said, of any paid signature-gathering efforts done on its behalf to get certified for the ballot. That's something Montana Democrats have claimed in a separate complaint to the Commissioner of Political Practices, alleging a political consulting firm called Advanced Micro Targeting paid people to gather signatures.
While paying people to gather signatures does not violate any campaign finance laws, it would have to be reported in finance reports. There were no efforts reported, but Democrats argue in their complaint several out-of-state residents gathered signatures and many of those people appear to be associated with Advanced Micro Targeting.
While Breck said on the call Friday there was "some indication" there were perhaps paid petition-gatherers, the Montana Green Party had no knowledge of it happening.
"There was no requirement to report into the party, that's not how we work," Breck said. "We put out a message to our supporters more than a year ago online publicly everywhere we could get a hold of people that we needed as much support collecting signatures as we could get. … If there was in fact paid petition-gathering efforts, we had no part in it. We paid no money; we had no money."
Breck said the attorney representing them in the lawsuit, Quentin Rhoades, is working on a contingency basis and is only charging the party for his out-of-pocket costs.
Rhoades, of Missoula, in the past has represented the conservative group American Tradition Partnership, as well as former state legislator Republican Art Wittich, who was found guilty by a jury of accepting illegal contributions in his 2010 stat Senate race.
Earlier this week Rhoades filed in Lewis and Clark County District Court the declarations of nine people who signed the Green Party's petition to get on the ballot, with each person declaring they signed the petition and "object to having my signature invalidated and my voice silenced."
The move is to counter efforts by Democrats in court this week to show some signatures gathered were not valid. Democrats claim in some cases that the signature on the petition does not match what's on file in the voter's record. They also cite other issues such as the signature being collected by a woman, but a man later signing off that he collected the signatures when submitting them to a county elections office.
While Democrats argued in court this week that petition-signers may have wanted to get the Green Party on the ballot, they say those alleged errors show petitions were submitted improperly and signatures were incorrectly certified, the party said.
Breck argued in the call that the intention of the signers is what matters most. "The people that signed that petition deserve to see the Green Party on the ballot and the Democrats are attacking their rights," she said.
Breck also addressed issues raised about some of the Green Party's candidates, including Tim Adams, who was previously on the state Republican Party payroll.
"Tim is a politically conscious individual that wants to make change in the world and is looking for a political home," Breck said, saying Adams has also worked on LGBT issues and is a supporter of legalizing marijuana.