Lyle Phillips, Don Kaltschmidt and Bob DePratu appear to have learned a thing or two since their 2001 misadventures in Whitefish civic affairs. Back then, an organization they helped form, Citizens for an Informed Public (CFAIP), launched a last-minute round of attack ads against incumbent Whitefish City Council members.
After the election, CFAIP’s activities were deemed illegal because it had not registered as an official Political Action Committee (PAC) with the state. Registering as a PAC would have required CFAIP to report the source of its money, and how it got spent.
This year, Phillips, Kaltschmidt, and DePratu are on the steering committee for a new political organization, Quality Whitefish, which opposes the incumbent council members and the proposed Critical Areas Ordinance. The group registered as a PAC on October 26—12 days before the election.
The date makes all the difference because PACs at the local level need to file public financial reports 12 days before an election and 20 days after. According to Mary Baker, Program Supervisor for the Montana Commission of Political Practices, Quality Whitefish will not need to disclose its finances until after the election, because it waited until Oct. 26 to register. So Quality Whitefish can directly support candidates (although no one from the organization returned phone calls to say if they have) without revealing their activities until late November.
Meanwhile two other groups, the Commission for Fair Land Use (CFLUG) and Sensible Land Use (SLU), have been aggressively attacking selected targets. For weeks they’ve been writing letters to local papers, mailing flyers to Whitefish homes and purchasing half and full-page ads in the Daily Inter Lake, Whitefish Pilot and Flathead Beacon that echo Quality Whitefish’s criticisms of the incumbent council and mayor, and the policies enacted or under consideration by them.
CFLUG and SLU are not subject to campaign finance laws because they don’t overtly support any candidates. And while they take the same stances, CFLUG and SLU members are not listed on the Quality Whitefish steering committee.
Thanks to Quality Whitefish’s auspicious filing date, voters will have to wait until after the election to find out whether finances tie the groups together.