By Steve Fetveit | Published in NBCMontana.com
- It should have been an easy assignment. Who’s backing whom in the medical marijuana wars in the Montana State Capitol.
If you want to know who’s pulling the strings in politics, you follow the money. It’s easy enough in Montana. State law requires candidates, lobbyists and advocate groups to report what they collected, what they spent and where they spent it. This month’s filing was due March 15th.
But Tuesday, when NBC Montana went on the money trail to find out who’s spending in the legislative battle over Montana’s controversial medical marijuana law, we came up empty handed.
We’ve seen evidence of spending. The television ads promoting House Bill 161 are all over cable and a number of television stations. But there were no reports on file with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practice; no reports, no list of contributors, no money trail.
The political disclaimer on the television ad says it’s paid for by a lobby group called “Safe Community Safe Kids”. That’s a Billings based lobby organization, formed in opposition to medical marijuana in Montana.
NBC Montana contacted Safe Community Safe Kids to ask for financial reports. The group denied having spent any money on the ads; “nothing, not a dime!.” When confronted with a station ad placement for $816.00, spokeswoman Cherrie Brady claimed the expense was far less than the $5,000 threshold for having to file a report.
Then, in less than an hour, we turned up another February media buy for more than 11-thosuand dollars.
Commissioner of Political Practices Jennifer Hensley says, “Montanans want to know who’s influencing public policy.” She contacted Brady citing state law and Tuesday night; a late report was filed.
The report outlines spending far more than $5,000. In February, Safe Community Safe Kids invested $15,500 in television advertising and production plus another $400 in printing expenses. The ads ask television viewers to contact their legislators in support of House Bill 161.
As for donors, Safe Communities Safe kids claims only one. Billings auto dealer Steve Zabawa is named as the organizations only donor, footing the bill for the entire ad campaign with a donation of $15,000.01.
Commissioner Hensley says the organization now faces fees accruing daily for failing to make a timely filing with the state.