By Amy Beth Hanson Associated Press

HELENA (AP) – The Montana Democratic Party failed to identify the issues and candidates that benefited from its spending of about $375,000 on the 2016 general election, the state’s top election watchdog found.

Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan also found that the party failed to include Supreme Court candidate Dirk Sandefur on a list of candidates it was supporting.

He referred the case to the Lewis and Clark County attorney for potential prosecution, but his Dec. 5 finding said such cases are usually settled with a civil fine.

Party spokesman Roy Loewenstein said it filed the appropriate information with the commissioner in October, but limitations of the online system “meant that material was not accepted. We have updated the filings in question and in the future we will be filing additional information to correct this deficiency in the reporting system.”

The campaign reporting system has fields for the vendor’s name, the purpose of the spending, the candidate or issue involved and the amount of money spent. The Democratic Party included both the purpose and the candidate/issue in the same field, which was limited to 100 characters. It left the candidate/issue field blank.

The party responded that the reporting failures were “not the fault of the reporter, but of the system,” the finding said.

However, the party “has, in other committee finance reports, utilized all the available fields, including the candidate/issue field,” Mangan wrote, noting they had also filed an addendum in cases where character limitations affected responses.

Jake Eaton of Billings, a former executive director of the Montana Republican Party, filed the complaint in July. He also suggested that the party and Sandefur’s campaign coordinated expenditures because both had the same deputy treasurer. The opinion found the deputy treasurer had only accounting duties with the campaigns.

The Democrats filed complaints in September and December of 2016 arguing that the Republican Party’s campaign committee did not adequately say how it used $25,600 in party funds in the 2016 election. The commissioner’s office agreed that reporting it spent the money on “consulting” was not specific enough.

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