HELENA — The Montana Green Party sought the public's help in gathering voter signatures to qualify its candidates to run in state elections this year, but is unaware of anybody being paid to do so, party officials said Monday.
Spokeswoman Danielle Breck responded in a statement to Montana Democratic Party allegations that a Las Vegas-based political firm conducted paid electioneering work on behalf of the Green Party without reporting to state regulators.
More than 10,000 signatures were turned in last month in support of certifying the left-leaning party, which has historically appealed to people who otherwise might vote Democratic.
Advanced Micro Targeting gathered more than 9,400 signatures over 19 days in February and March, which suggests a professional operation, Democratic officials alleged in their complaint to the state Commissioner of Political Practices.
The Democratic Party does not allege any wrongdoing by the Green Party in the complaint. But the Democrats want to know who hired the Nevada company, which has done work for Republican political efforts.
A number listed for Advanced Micro Targeting rang unanswered. There was no immediate response to an email submitted through the company's website.
Breck said in a statement the party made its petition available on its website and through social media "to make the process as simple as possible." The party posted instructions on how to submit signatures to local election officials.
"We are unaware of any paid petitioning efforts taking place on our behalf," Breck said. "We are a grassroots movement that, upon initiating our petition efforts more than a year ago, made a public appeal to our supporters asking for assistance gathering signatures."
To qualify for ballot access by petition, a political party must submit at least 5,000 signatures by registered voters from at least 34 state House districts. Secretary of State Corey Stapleton certified the party after validating 7,386 signatures from four different Montana counties last month.
Six people have filed to run as Green Party candidates this year, including two challengers to Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester.
Breck said in her statement that 7,000 voter signatures were gathered after the Green Party posted the petition and instructions.
The reason for the disparity in numbers was not immediately clear. Breck did not return a call for additional comment.
The Democrats' complaint notes that Advanced Micro Targeting previously collected signatures in Montana for a constitutional amendment called Marsy's Law, a crime victims' bill of rights that voters approved in 2016. The company also recently worked on a recall campaign led by Republicans against a state senator in Nevada, according to the complaint.
If the company engaged in work on behalf of the Green Party in which it paid salaries or expenses for signature-gatherers, that would be an in-kind contribution that requires disclosure and possibly registration as a political committee, the Democratic complaint alleges.
"At least two of these people appear to be employees of the out-of-state, Republican-linked firm, Advanced Micro Targeting," Democratic Party spokesman Roy Loewenstein said Monday. "We look forward to the conclusion of the COPP investigation into what exactly happened and who was behind this effort."
Also on Friday, the state Commissioner of Political Practices issued an order of noncompliance against the Green Party of Missoula for operating as a political committee without reporting its spending or contributions. Breck had previously told Lee Newspapers that the Green Party of Missoula received $2,000 from the Green Party of the United States without reporting it.
The order of noncompliance says that the commissioner emailed Breck on March 27 and spoke by phone March 28 about the group's failure to file a statement of organization and a committee finance report. If the Green Party does not, by the end of the week, file the documents it may be subject to civil action from the local county attorney or the commissioner.