Updated 7/7/18

The Montana Family Foundation-backed initiative to mandate which bathrooms transgender people may use in the name of “locker room privacy” collected fewer than half the signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot — and spent barely any money trying.

While the final tallies for ballot initiatives won’t be published by the Montana Secretary of State until later this month, the Billings Gazette reported June 29 that the state has received just over 8,000 signatures for I-183, with the largest counties having submitted all but a few of their petitions.

Ballot initiative organizers needed to collect 25,468 signatures by June 20 to qualify.

Pro-LGBTQ and civil rights organizations including ACLU of Montana, Planned Parenthood Advocates, Montana Women Vote and others mounted a vigorous opposition campaign, anchored by two legal challenges in state court. The coalition called I-183 a “well-funded, unique attempt to enshrine discrimination into our state Constitution.” Coalition members have racked up $62,800 worth of in-kind work to oppose the measure, while the national ACLU gave $100,000 in cash, according to state campaign finance disclosures.

The “locker room privacy” campaign, on the other hand, never seemed to get off the ground. Its preliminary signature tally is comparable to the 9,700 signatures submitted by supporters of a 2016 initiative to legalize recreational marijuana. That low-budget campaign was put forth by a man who cycled around the state to gather signatures and attention and did not have the backing of the state cannabis industry.

The Montana Family Foundation appears to have fielded a low-budget effort as well. The Montanans for Locker Room Privacy ballot issue committee has disclosed a grand total of $205 in cash contributions, of which $175 came from two donors, plus $3,155 in in-kind contributions by its organizational backer, the Montana Family Foundation, during 2017.

On its own campaign finance disclosures, the Foundation, a 501(c)4, did not disclose the $3,155 in-kind contribution, but did list 2018 in-kind contributions toward I-183 totalling $6,400.

The pro-I-183 website solicited volunteers to gather signatures, but does not appear to have solicited donations.

The campaign’s lack of funding is odd, given that the Family Foundation hosted a Bozeman “launch” event and I-183 fundraiser in October where tickets cost $75 each, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported at the time. The Foundation banquet held in Bozeman the prior year had yielded $18,000 in contributions, federal tax filings indicate.

Montana Family Foundation director Jeff Laszloffy did not return an email Tuesday seeking comment. In an interview with MTN News, he blamed I-183’s failure on a court ruling tied to the first ACLU lawsuit that invalidated its initial ballot language. The ruling forced the campaign to abandon “thousands and thousands” of signatures it gathered last summer, Laszloffy said.

Update, 7/7/18: After this story went to press, Montana Family Foundation executive director Jeff Laszloffy told the Indy that the foundation's internal records show it spent $18,906, mostly in staff time, to qualify I-183 for the ballot. Laszloffy said he wasn't sure why the finance reports posted online by the Commissioner of Political Practices don't match the Foundation's internal figure.

Staff Reporter

Staff reporter Derek Brouwer joined the Indy in 2015 after year-long stints covering education at the Billings Gazette and the Helena Independent Record. He graduated from Montana State University. Follow him on Twitter: @derekwbrouwer.

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