Monthly Archives: November 2010

More Driving Problems for Rs: This Time, a Hit And Run

Something about Republicans and traffic ordinances simply doesn’t mix.

First it was the infamous and tragic Shane Hedges DUI accident and death of the House Speaker, and felony charges all around, with Judy Martz barely escaping a prosecution for evidence tampering. Rs have kept a steady pace since then. Greg Barkus got a few DUIs on the road over the last decade; Scott Boggio, a GOP legislator from Red Lodge, ran up on a curb while driving around with another repub, Elsie Arntzen, and got pulled over, and turned out to be massively drunk, though of course Arntzen, a DUI Task Force member, expressed the usual right-wing-passenger-shock, and said she “had no idea” driver Boggio was impaired.

Then Brad Johnson, the Secretary of State, got pulled over for a DUI and went subsequently to treatment, though it didn’t seem to phase him: from a rehab center, he actively continued campaigning in his PSC race.

And of course then Barkus went for the hat-trick, a third DUI, this time in style by running a boat up into the rocky shore of Flathead Lake, causing injuries all around, with passenger Rehberg, drunk himself, taking a page out of Arntzen’s script and saying he was shocked to hear that the driver was impaired.

Then there was recently Brad Molnar, who mowed his car into that of some hapless girl a few months ago, and fled the scene and yesterday was placed under a restraining order from any contact with the victim.

Drinking, Driving, Boating, Hit and Runs. What is most important is that Republicans will often fight publicly for stiffer sentencing for criminals, and against the evil smoking of marijuana, and in favor of “values”.

Bought, but by Whom?

Who are the moneybags that own the new Republican legislature? For starters, at least a half-million dollars was spent by a group called Western Tradition Partnership was directly Republican legislative candidates to help them get elected in 2010. Let’s assume that 20 races were targeted by these funds. That’s $25,000 per race. To put that in perspective, I’m told the average legislative candidate in Montana usually raises $10-15 grand for his or her own campaign.

Western Tradition Partnership is a group founded by his Royal Shadiness John Sinrud. We know this because an investigation by Dennis Unsworth, the Political Practices Commissioner, uncovered a power-point presentation belonging to a WTP operative, showing some sort of flow-chart of money and some rough calculations and budget items, and indicating a plan to spend half a million bucks in Montana on legislative races. What we don’t know is who funds the Western Tradition Partnership, though we may soon find out. At the end of Unsworth’s investigation, he found WTP guilty of breaking Montana campaign laws by not revealing where its money comes from. WTP claimed, in its defense, that its hundreds of negative mailers and other advertisements, blasted out during the closing weeks of the campaign and trashing democratic legislative candidates in every way imaginable, was not “campaign related” activity but rather “issue advocacy”. “Issue-related” organizations can set themselves up as non-profit entities under federal law. This means they can hide their donors as long as each donor gives less than $25,000. The only thing they may not do is “directly advocate” for or against a candidate.

The Commissioner’s ruling, however, means that the state of Montana has found that the WTP’s activity crosses the line from issue-advocacy to campaign activity under state law. So we may yet see the WTP’s books as the State of Montana continues its prosecution of these jerks. That would be a fun thing. We will then know who, exactly, owns the new Republican legislature.

Right now WTP has taken the offensive, suing the State, the Attorney General, and just about everyone else, claiming that Unsworth had no power to investigate them and claiming that Montana’s campaign finance laws are unconstitutional. Bullock should step up and slam these A-holes.

That Didn’t Take Long

The first order of business for Republicans should be to get rid of Schweitzer, and “delouse” the Governor’s residence, according to a source who saw Jana Taylor’s before her fellow Republican House members two days ago in her bid to become Whip. Nice gal. She made a speech littered with insults at the Governor, to a grinning chamber of fellow R lawmakers.

I wasn’t in the building but I’ve gotten bits and pieces from people who saw it and could remember it. Anyone recall some of the specifics? Please share.

Montana Poll Reveals Undressed Wounds

Time heals all wounds, the saying goes, but perhaps not when it comes to rehabilitating Montana Senator Max Baucus’s poll numbers after public views of the health care bill became what they are.

According to a new Public Policy Polling survey, the 70-year-old incumbent’s rating has hardly seen an uptick since it plummetted after the health care bill became what it is.   Baucus’ favorables now stand at 38 percent, fifty-three percent of Montanans meanwhile continue to view the Senator unfavorably.

But perhaps Montanans can take solace in the fact the public is more keen on his counterpart, as Pogie writes, the same poll showed that Tester is looking good early.

The poll surveyed 1,176 Montana voters from November 10th to 13th.  The margin of error for the survey is +/- 2.9%

The Montana GOP Hypocrite of the Week Award Goes to…

…the Montana Chamber of Commerce, which has come out in favor of out-of-state corporate tax cheats, namely Travelocity and Expedia, who are short-changing the state of Montana on taxes when they sell hotel rooms. No surprise here.  The last time the Chamber took an action on taxes, it tried to get a tax break for big oil companies such as Exxon-Mobil, around the same time the CEO of Exxon was paying himself a $400 million retirement bonus.

As the IR explains in this editorial, and as Montana Revenue Director Dan Bucks describes here, every hotel owner collects and gives to Montana a seven percent tax when a room is sold, and the money the state collects goes toward promoting tourism. But Travelocity and other such websites are evidently keeping the dough for themselves, or at least they are engaged in some fishy bookkeeping. Bucks thinks these companies might owe the state millions of dollars.

The pathetic part about this decision by the Chamber to support a bunch of billion dollar out-of-state tax avoiders is that apparently the Montana hotel owners have come out against what these online giants are doing.

That’s right: One of the most important groups of local business owners in Montana has come out against the nefarious practices of a few multi-billion dollar out-of-state corporations, and yet the Montana Chamber of Commerce has sided with the latter group. That’s kinda hard to believe. At least when they come out in favor of tax breaks for Exxon, one could note that Exxon has a refinery here and is thus a member of the business community.

Why the Chamber would take the side of the big bad guy from another state, rather than the small good guys from Montana, is a mystery, although it probably has something to do with the fact that the national chamber, headquartered in Washington, is a lobby dominated by large corporations, and gives orders to Webb Brown and Jon Benion, the conservative Republicans who run the Montana chamber.

It would not be the first time that these guys went against the prevailing will of the Chamber’s constituents. Recall that the local businesspeople who make up the local chambers of commerce across Montana strongly supported Schweitzer in 2008, and yet the Chamber state leadership, with little input from the rank and file, quietly engineered an endorsement of Roy Brown.  Similarly local chambers have supported mill levies to fund education and the statewide entity fought against increased funding for schools in the legislature.

The other wrinkle in the Travelocity dust-up is that Travelocity, Expedia and the others are evidently lobbying Congress for a bill that would preempt all state power to collect taxes from them. That law, if they could get it, would clearly be worth hundreds of millions to the companies. It would get the companies off the hook on all back taxes they owe states. But it would screw the rest of Americans.

When you cut a giant corporation a break on its taxes, someone else has to make up the difference.

It’s unclear what the Chamber’s position is on that federal law, but I could probably take a guess.