Paying to boost a Facebook post during a Montana election could put you at the center of a Political Practices complaint. The Missoulian newspaper was involved in a complaint last Thursday that was dismissed, but even before that, Missoula Resident Tyler Thiesen says that he received a message from the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices on his Community Facebook Page “Vent Missoula,” asking him to disclose his identity.

It turns out the complaint against Vent Missoula was filed by Missoula-area State legislator (HD91) Bryce Bennett, who explains why he filed the complaint.

"They started spending money on Facebook ads to attack a candidate running for Mayor here in Missoula and in the legislature we passed a bill, pretty intentionally, that if you're going to be going after a candidate, if you are going to be making political expenditures, you have to say who you are," Bennett said.

Thiesen says he revealed his identity to the commissioner, but says he’s been dealing with this for over a week now, and questions why the case involving the Missoulian was addressed within 24 hours. Thiesen says he boosted posts that were popular to get more engagement on his site and explains some of the site’s content:

"It was topical humor about things around Missoula, you know, we posted some clips from that show Portlandia, making fun of bicyclists," Thiesen said. "Memes; there was one with a dog in a business suit complaining about city construction projects, there were a few articles critical of the mayor, one about... we had a lot of people who were frustrated about getting their comments removed from the Engen for Mayor page."

Bennet’s complaint says that while Vent Missoula may describe itself as “a space for Missoulians to vent about anything Missoula” it was actually an “incidental committee” because it was a consistent source of opposition to Mayor John Engen and a vocal supporter of mayoral candidate Lisa Triepke.

Thiesen admits that many of the posts were venting about Mayor Engen, which is pretty obvious upon viewing the page: the cover photo of the Vent Missoula is actually a satire of Engen's campaign slogan that reads "My Missoula. Your Taxes :)." However, Thiesen says that Vent Missoula purposefully didn’t endorse Triepke or any other candidate and says the closest he came was a post criticizing the Missoulian newspaper.

"The closest one was, we did post a link to the Missoulian's coverage of Triepke's divorce, which we criticized the Missoulian for, you know, publishing repeated articles of her and her kids and her husband and her SNAP usage, and yet, I don't recall them covering any of the mayor's personal divorce details," Thiesen said.

Montana Political Practices Commissioner Jeff Mangan told KGVO news last week that he was working on an advisory opinion that would cover the issue of Facebook boosting, but so far that opinion has not been released.

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