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Knudsen campaign says Dems’ complaint lacks specifics

by DARRELL EHRLICK Daily Montanan
| May 24, 2024 12:00 AM

The campaign for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen has responded to a complaint filed by the executive director of the Montana Democratic Party that accuses the top law enforcement officer of campaign violations, including raising more campaign funds than allowed by law, and recruiting a primary candidate who is not qualified.

Responding to the complaint filed last week, campaign manager Jake Eaton called on Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Chris Gallus to dismiss the complaint, saying that it doesn’t mention one violation of law, and therefore the Knudsen campaign cannot respond to the allegations, which Eaton called “semi-coherent ramblings.”

“Ms. Hogan’s complaint violates the requirements of (Montana law) because the complain does not set forth a detailed description of the alleged violations, including citations to each statute and/or rule that is alleged to be violated,” the response letter said.

The Commissioner of Political Practices has yet to rule on the matter, and, as of Wednesday afternoon, was still awaiting a response from Knudsen’s primary opponent, Daniels County Attorney Logan Olson, whom Hogan also filed a complaint against.

Those complaints are similar and connected.

Hogan’s letter cites a portion of Montana law that governs donations to statewide political candidates. In her letter, Hogan asks the Commissioner to declare that Olson doesn’t meet the qualifications for running for Montana Attorney General, which requires candidates to have been practicing law for five years by Election Day.

According to his website and a records check with the University of Montana, Olson graduated from law school in 2020, although some courts have counted time in law school toward the requirement.

Hogan alleges that Knudsen started collecting campaign funds for both the primary and the general election before he had a challenger. Moreover, when Olson filed on the last day of eligibility, he wasn’t qualified, the complaint alleges.

In her complaint, Hogan asks the Commissioner of Political Practice to strike Olson’s name from the ballot and force Knudsen to return excessive funds because he was ineligible for office.

However, in his response, Knudsen’s campaign said that many Democratic candidates for office start raising money in anticipation of an opponent, as Knudsen has done.

“If the commissioner accepts Ms. Hogan’s new interpretation of 13-37-216(6), please notify me right away so I may file complaints against those candidates as well,” Eaton said in his response.

Knudsen’s complaint is silent about remarks he made at a May 11 barbecue to meet candidates in Dillon. During the event, where Knudsen was featured as a guest, the attorney general told the crowd that he recruited Olson to run against in him in the primary so that he could raise more money, according to a recording obtained by the Daily Montanan.

Moreover, Knudsen said that Olson wasn’t planning on running a campaign, and said that he had recruited him so that the incumbent Republican attorney general could raise more funds, calling Montana campaign finance law “ridiculous.”

Montana law places limits on how much candidates running unopposed can raise. It also prohibits enticing another candidate to run for office for financial gain.

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, a nonprofit newsroom.