Houck responds to ruling about violation of campaign practice la - KRTV News in Great Falls, Montana

Houck responds to ruling about violation of campaign practice laws

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Great Falls City Commission candidate Tracy Houck Great Falls City Commission candidate Tracy Houck
Great Falls City Commission candidate Don Petrini Great Falls City Commission candidate Don Petrini

The Montana Commissioner of Political Practices has determined that Great Falls City Commission candidate Tracy Houck violated campaign practice laws.

Commissioner Jonathan Motl ruled that Houck failed to report just under $300 in expenses and donated services.

Motl, acting on a complaint filed by city commission candidate Don Petrini, determined that Houck failed to timely file campaign documents.

Petrini's complaint cited Houck's original statement for her candidacy, in which she indicated that she would not raise or spend any money on her campaign, including her own money.

Houck has since placed several campaign signs around town, sponsored an advertisement on Facebook, and used professional photos on her campaign Facebook page.

Houck later filed an amended candidate statement in which she indicates that she will raise money.

From the COPP report:

- Sufficiency Finding No. 1: There are sufficient facts to show that Candidate Houck violated Montana's Campaign Practice Act (including, if legally necessary, S13-37-231 MCA) by accepting campaign contributions and making campaign expenditures during a time when she had filed a C-l-A form (including an affidavit) stating that she would not receive or expend any such funds.

- Sufficiency Finding No. 2: The Commissioner finds that sufficient facts exist to show that Candidate Houck acted in violation of Montana's campaign practice law by late filing her pre-election campaign finance report.

- Sufficiency Finding No. 3: The Commissioner finds that sufficient facts exist to show that Candidate Houck acted in violation of Montana's campaign practice law by late reporting or failing to report campaign expenses.

The COPP report included the following "findings of fact":

- Candidate Houck's response to the Complaint states that "[i]n mid-August I [as a candidate] did spend personal dollars via Staples.com and purchased magnetic door signs, t-shirts, cards and caps." The response further states that she paid fees to Facebook and received the volunteer services of a professional photographer. (Commissioner's records.)

- An examination of the campaign finance reports (including amended reports) submitted by Candidate Houck discloses the following expenses:
-- a. $67 .O2 in-kind (Candidate Houck) for Facebook ads.
-- b. $150 in-kind (Robert Childs) for photo costs
-- c. $59.98 in-kind for car magnets (Juiu Jerman)

Motl wrote that he "appreciates that Candidate Houck is incurring expenses in her campaign through the in-kind contributions of supporters. But that approach does not lessen the responsibility to fully report and disclose." 

In his ruling, Motl said that he will refer the matter to the Lewis & Clark County attorney for possible prosecution.

If the County Attorney declines to prosecute, as is often the case, the matter could be referred back to the COPP office.

If that happens, Motl says the issue could be resolved by having Houck pay a negotiated fine.

Click here to read the complete COPP ruling (PDF).

Houck released the following statement on Thursday afternoon: 

I want to publicly acknowledge the decision the Montana Office of Political Practices has made on the complaint my opponent Don Petrini filed in September against me. I have been found to have violated three rules; however I am not being disqualified as a candidate because I was able to amend all of my reports and correct my filings based on all of the documentation I had.

While I did in fact refile my C-1-A (that originally said I wouldn't accept money, amending it so I could accept money and spend money after I found a treasurer) the state unfortunately does not have a hard copy that I mailed. Upon immediately learning this, I refiled electronically on September 22, 2015. I have also since scanned and emailed all of my reports and have no other outstanding issues.

Mr. Petrini also claimed that I spent money on my campaign that I did not acknowledge in my campaign reporting. In my original report I said I did report everything that I spent money on. What I did not understand was that the state required candidates to file in kind services and expenditures. I had used materials I had at home and did not disclose them as in-kind (such as iron on transfers left over from kid projects and card sock). Also since I used a photo of myself that was taken by a professional photographer it needed to be disclosed as in-kind services. These services were not on my original reports, but with the assistance and guidance of the Office of Political Practices my reports have since been amended and are up to date.

The amount being scrutinized was approximately $200 of in-kind services and a sponsored FB ad. It has been addressed by another candidate that perhaps this all could have made a difference in the primary but I don;t think it would have. Another candidate spent more than $4000 and didn't make it. Either way, my reports are at the state and they are in good standing.

As this is my first campaign, and the first time for my campaign team (both my treasurer and manager), we have definitely learned a lot in the process. Rules and polices are in place for a reason to keep the playing field fair and I appreciate the ruling, as in hindsight, I didn't do my filings correctly. However, I also appreciate the fact that I was able to be educated and amend my filings to be in accordance with the rules.

The only other thing I know I have been guilty about in this campaign is being naive about the mudslinging and tactics other candidates use to move ahead in the polls. I guess that it why many people don't run for political office. I am not going to let this bump and learning lesson slow me down.

I am committed to running a fair campaign and being the next city commissioner for Great Falls. Thanks for the opportunity to tell my side. Learning from my mistakes, admitting when I err, disclosing conflicts of interest and being transparent is very important in life and serving the public. I pledge to do all of that every chance I get. 

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