Opponents of a ballot initiative seeking restrictions on new mining permits filed a complaint with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices alleging proponents sent text messages that do not comply with campaign law and contain false information.
Initiative 186 would prohibit the Montana Department of Environmental Quality from issuing new mining permits if reclamation plans include the perpetual treatment of water.
Supporters tout the initiative as protecting Montana’s water quality and industries that depend on it.
Opponents call the measure a veiled attempt to eliminate mining in Montana, which already has strong laws protecting water quality.
On Wednesday the commissioner accepted a complaint from Stop I-186 to Protect Miners and Jobs and its chairman Dave Galt. The complaint against YES for Responsible Mining alleges that a text message campaign sent on behalf of YES did not include required language identifying who had paid for it.
“The texts are election communications …. All election communications, electioneering communications, and independent expenditures must clearly and conspicuously include the attribution ‘paid for by’ followed by the name and address of the person who financed the communication,” the complaint says.
A screen shot of the text message attached to the complaint says “Hey! I’m with Yes for Responsible Mining supporting I-186, which will help keep MT water clean and promote responsible mining. Will you vote YES on I-186.”
The recipient replies “no,” and the sender replies with a second text message, which says, “Remember, taxpayers are forced to pay the bill when irresponsible mining companies dump toxic chemicals in our rivers,” followed by a website address.
The complaint says the phone number sending the text message does not match a geographic location or area code and the number cannot be called back.
The complaint goes on to say that the second text message contains false information.
“I think it’s something we’ve been saying all along, this isn’t about clean water, Montana has some of the highest water quality standards in the U.S.,” Galt said in an interview. “To say we’re dumping toxic chemicals in our rivers today is just false.”
The complaint asks the commissioner to require YES to retract the message and advise recipients it “misrepresented facts and Montana law,” and to levy any appropriate fines or other penalties.
In response, YES issued a press release calling the claims made in the complaint “false” and “frivolous,” and said that text messages are an increasingly popular way of reaching the public. The press release does not address the specific allegations made in the complaint about identifying financial backers.
Co-chair David Brooks, who is also executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited, said in a phone message that the press release would be the group’s official statement on the matter.
“This complaint is nothing more than a desperate attempt by the foreign-backed mining industry to try to divert attention from the millions of dollars they’ve poured into lying to Montanans,” Brooks said in a statement. “It’s a stunt – a sideshow – meant to distract us from what’s really at hand. We’re worried about protecting water and promoting responsible mining while they’re out racking up legal fees on a baseless complaint.”
On Tuesday, YES filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that those backing opposition to I-186 included foreign-based companies and may violate election laws. They had previously sent cease and desist letters to Montana TV stations demanding an opposition ad be taken down, claiming it included false information.
Lee Newspapers' Holly Michels contributed to this story.