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.