Montana GOP asks high court to remove Libertarian SOS candidate

By Mike Dennison – MTN News

HELENA –  The head of the state Republican Party Wednesday asked the Montana Supreme Court to remove the Libertarian secretary of state candidate from Montana’s November ballot, for not filing proper campaign forms.

Jeff Essmann’s filing for “extraordinary relief” said Libertarian Roger Roots failed to file forms required of every other candidate – personal financial disclosure and campaign-finance reports – and there is not qualified to be on the November ballot.

Essmann’s request comes a few days before county election officials start preparing the ballot, which goes out to absentee voters in early October. He asked the high court to issue a temporary restraining order, blocking any ballot-printing until the case is resolved.

“Without immediate Supreme Court action, voters will receive an illegal ballot and be able to vote for an unqualified person, thereby impugning the integrity of the 2016 election,” wrote Essmann’s attorney, Emily Jones.

The court did not issue a restraining order Wednesday, but it did order Secretary of State Linda McCulloch to notify county election officials about the case – and gave McCulloch, Commissioner of Political Practices and Roots to respond by noon next Monday.

The lawsuit said Motl and McCulloch improperly ignored the GOP’s requests to disqualify Roots. Both Motl and McCulloch said Wednesday that Roots filed the required forms, and that he is properly on the ballot.

Motl called the lawsuit a “political stunt” that lacks key facts. Roots also told MTN News that the GOP effort is “utterly trivial” and has “no substance whatsoever.”

Roots, a paralegal from Livingston, was in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, at the federal trial of Ryan Bundy, one of the accused occupiers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Roots is assisting Bundy’s legal defense team.

Roots is one of three candidates running for Montana’s open secretary of state seat; the others are Republican Corey Stapleton and Democrat Monica Lindeen.

In a close race, votes received by the Libertarian candidate sometimes can influence the final outcome of a statewide contest.

Montana Democrats usually believe a Libertarian candidate may help them in statewide races, potentially drawing votes away from the Republican candidate in the contest.

Essmann’s complaint said Motl dinged other candidates for this year for not filing proper finance and disclosure forms, leading to their removal from the ballot, but failed to say Roots should be removed for the same violations.

Roots has not filed a form disclosing his personal finances, known as a D-1 form, and has filed only one campaign-reporting form, in August, that was more than three months late, the complaint said.

“Roots was not in compliance on Aug. 18 … he was not in compliance on Aug. 25 and he is still not in compliance today,” the suit said.

Yet Motl told MTN News that a late campaign-finance report is not grounds for removal from the ballot. He also said Roots has filed the D-1 form, but that the office has misplaced it, so it’s not immediately visible.

McCulloch said she has certified the November ballot and that only Motl has the power to order someone removed from the ballot for not filing proper disclosure forms.