Campaign complaint claims Knudsen improperly coordinated with GOP primary opponent

Austin Knudsen
Posted at 6:23 PM, May 17, 2024

HELENA — The Montana Democratic Party’s executive director has filed a campaign complaint against Attorney General Austin Knudsen, claiming he was improperly coordinating with his opponent in the Republican primary to allow him to raise more campaign funds.

Sheila Hogan submitted complaints last week to the Commissioner of Political Practices against Knudsen and the other candidate in this year’s GOP primary for attorney general, Logan Olson. In a response, Commissioner Chris Gallus said he had begun a review.

Montana law sets limits on how much money a candidate can raise from a single donor in a single election – $790 per election for the attorney general’s race. If a candidate is unopposed in the primary, the primary and general election count as only one election. If they have a primary opponent, they count as two separate elections – so donors can give the maximum amount twice.

Earlier this week, the Daily Montanan reported that Knudsen had been recorded at a campaign event, telling attendees that he had asked Olson to run in the primary against him so he could raise more, under what he called “ridiculous” campaign laws.

Olson is the county attorney for Daniels County, in northeastern Montana. He filed to run for attorney general on the last possible day. As of May 15, he had not reported raising or spending any money on his campaign.

Hogan’s complaints, filed before the Daily Montanan article, claim that there is a “clear tie between the two ‘campaigns.’” They cite the fact that Knudsen and Olson’s campaigns both name the same campaign treasurer, and they claim that Olson now practices at the same law firm where Knudsen formerly practiced.

The complaints also claim Olson does not meet the minimum qualifications to serve as attorney general. The Montana Constitution says the attorney general must be “an attorney in good standing admitted to practice law in Montana who has engaged in the active practice thereof for at least five years before election.” The State Bar of Montana’s member directory says Olson was admitted as an active attorney in September 2020.

Hogan concluded the complaints by calling on the Commissioner of Political Practices to declare Olson’s candidacy invalid. She called for Gallus to consider fining Olson for “cynical and abusive behavior” and Knudsen for “participating in this scheme that misleads Montana voters.”

“He should be compelled to return and reimburse every dollar that he has raised from donors for the 2024 June Primary election beyond the $790 he might have normally raised from those donors,” Hogan wrote.

Hogan also called for removing Olson’s name from the ballot. Gallus said in his response that he does not have the power to take that step, but that complainants could ask for it through state district court.

Gallus gave Knudsen and Olson until Thursday, May 23, to provide a formal response to the complaints.

Jake Eaton, a senior advisor to the Knudsen campaign, released a statement to MTN Friday.

“We are in 100% compliance with the law, and I am confident the Commissioner will dismiss this frivolous complaint,” he said.