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Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Jon Motl said he will not propose new administrative rules for Montana later this month that would prohibit the use of child donors:

We thoroughly discussed whether or not campaign contributions should be be age-limited with a prohibition on minors (various ages were suggested). We eventually set it up in debate format with a proponent and opponent and the vetting group (9 people, including myself) felt as a majority that this was not an issue that was ready for inclusion at this time, given the number of other ideas and changes that we were undertaking. Consequently, by design, there is no rule proposed for this issue.

- Commissioner Jon Motl.

The issue has affected high-profile candidates from both parties, even the president. In 2007, the Washington Post reported that Barack Obama's presidential campaign returned donations from a 2-year-old after the newspaper asked the campaign to explain.

Research by the National Conference of State Legislatures in 2006 showed a hodge-podge of rules which range from an outright ban on persons under 18 from making contributions and others that attribute the donation to the parent or guardian.

  • In Missouri, contributions from persons under 14 of age are considered made by the parents or guardians and are attributed toward contribution limit.
  • In Ohio, no individual who is under 7 years of age shall make any contribution.
  • In Arizona, a contribution from an unemancipated minor is treated as a contribution from his parents.

Such laws are put in place to prevent family members from using children to circumvent contributions caps. At least one state's law has been legally challenged as unconstitutional by the ACLU.

No one I've spoken to can remember Montana's relevant law, MCA 13-37-217, being used, ever.

Contributions in name of undisclosed principal. A person may not make a contribution of the person's own money or of another person's money to any other person in connection with any election in any other name than that of the person who in truth supplies the money. A person may not knowingly receive a contribution or enter or cause the contribution to be entered in the person's accounts or records in another name than that of the person by whom it was actually furnished.

So a necessary question becomes: Do child donors exist in Montana?

Rachel Gianforte of Bozeman was 4 years old when she contributed the maximum $400 to Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert Natelson's primary campaign. Her three brothers also contributed, the oldest being under 12.

Their donations were made after their parents, Greg and Susan Gianforte, had themselves given the maximum donation to Natelson, according to Montana campaign finance records. Greg Gianforte did not respond to an email offering an opportunity to comment.

Natelson's campaign is 15 years gone — finding more recent examples is difficult. Despite having to list their names, occupations, and addresses in public records, donor ages are not publicly reported. Should Montana consider requiring donors to list their ages?

The commissioner of political practices plans to publish the proposed rules on Aug. 13. Public comment will begin then, and a public hearing on the rules in Helena is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 2 and 3.

 

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Troy Carter can be reached at 582-2630 or tcarter@dailychronicle.com. He's on Twitter at @cartertroy.

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Troy Carter covers politics and county government for the Chronicle.

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