When Jim Edwards sought to unseat Jean Curtiss during the 2006 county commissioner race, he violated campaign finance laws, according to a May 21 report released by Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Dennis Unsworth.
During the race, local blogger Bill Vaughn filed a complaint with Unsworth's office alleging that Edwards, a local developer and businessman, failed to file campaign finance reports on time.
Vaughn, who is also Edwards' neighbor, opposed Edwards' candidacy in part because of Edwards' plan to develop the 600-acre Trout Meadows Ranch. As part of his effort to re-elect Curtiss, Vaughn tried to find Edwards' financial backing to post on his blog, but, according to Vaughn's complaint, Edwards missed the deadline to file his campaign finance reports.
After an investigation, Unsworth found that Vaughn was right.
As is customary, Unsworth passed the case against Edwards to Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg for prosecution. Van Valkenburg then kicked it back to Unsworth, which is also regular procedure.
In a June 15 letter to Unsworth, Van Valkenburg wrote: "While it appears...that it may be appropriate to seek the imposition of a civil penalty, I respectfully defer to you to pursue such relief." Unsworth's investigation, Van Valkenburg wrote, placed the commissioner in a better position to determine what, if any, action should be taken against Edwards.
"It's very common to have the county attorney send those back to us," Unsworth says. "They typically have their hands full, and it's their prerogative. Our options are to drop it, seek a settlement, or file a court action."
Unsworth says that his office had not decided whether to press charges against Edwards.
Edwards didn't return a call seeking comment.