Campaign commissioner: Liberal blog’s attacks aren’t election material

Attacks from the liberal, anonymous blog Montana Cowgirl are exempt from campaign laws requiring “attribution,” and therefore the blog doesn’t have to identify its author, the state’s top campaign-law enforcer said Friday.

Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl said postings on the anonymous blog’s website are not “electioneering communication” and don’t have to be attributed.

Motl’s decision dismissed a complaint from Public Service Commission candidate Caron Cooper of Livingston, who said an Aug. 18 anonymous posting on Montana Cowgirl attacked her candidacy, had “no journalistic basis” and should be considered election material, which, under state law, cannot be anonymous.

“There needed to be a name to that article for my rights to be protected,” she told MTN News Friday. “(The law) should protect me from these random slurs.”

Motl said a blog communication distributed on the Internet is exempted from being “electioneering communication.” He also noted that previous court decisions have protected “anonymous pamphleteering” as protected free speech.

Cooper, who has a doctorate in energy resources and runs a community thrift store, is running as an Independent in PSC District No. 3, which covers 14 counties in south-central Montana. It stretches from Dillon to Roundup and includes the cities of Butte, Bozeman, Anaconda and Livingston.

She is challenging incumbent Commissioner Roger Koopman, R-Bozeman. Also in the race is Democrat Pat Noonan, a state representative from Ramsay.

The anonymous Aug. 18 posting on Montana Cowgirl blasted Cooper for having a fundraiser at “the home of right-wing Republican Nels Swandal in Livingston.” Swandal is a state senator.

The posting went on to say “it tells me that she’s no progressive,” and slammed both Swandal and Koopman. The tagged topics on the article included “PSC spoiler,” “Porn” and “Racist views.”

It called Cooper a “spoiler” candidate and implied that a vote for her was a wasted vote in the effort to oust Koopman.

The identify of Montana Cowgirl has not been definitively established, but its author or authors clearly have close ties to the Montana Democratic Party.

Cooper replied to the Aug. 18 post by writing on the website: “Oh, god, how I wish folks would just ask me before they blast out such rot.” She reiterated that she is running as an Independent.

She told MTN that she’s “infuriated” by the article’s tagging of “porn” and “racist.”

Cooper has said she’s running as an Independent who won’t accept campaign donations from industries regulated by the PSC, which regulates electric, gas, telephone and water utilities.