Some Folks Might be Heading to the Pokey in Montana

In a brilliant piece of investigative journalism, the PBS show Frontline has revealed the seedy underbelly of secret money in elections, with a full-hour expose of Montana politics and a secretive right-wing group known as American Tradition Partnership, or ATP.

Numerous Republican candidates might have worked too closely with ATP, and could be in trouble legally if not electorally.  They might be going to the pokey (meaning the clink, the one in Deer Lodge.)

The short story is that the 2010 election, in which the Tea Party swept into control of the Montana legislature, may have featured massive illegalities.   Under state law, third party groups, the ones like American Tradition Partnership which spend masses of unregulated, unreported money, are legally barred from coordinating with candidates.  But several legislative candidates and the ATP have been caught red handed, working together, in violation of the law.  The Frontline documentary reveals that a secret stash of incriminating documents has been found, showing extensive communications between Republican legislative candidates and the ATP, and showing that the ATP was even preparing campaign material for them.

Wendy Warburton's behavior should be investigatedThe Havre Daily News, for example, reported today that GOP legislator Wendy Warburton appears to have been in direct communication with the group, even going so far as to send them a “signature stamp,” presumably so they could send out mailings on her behalf, using her signature.  That’s likely to be found illegal under Montana law.

Files on Mike Miller, Ed Butcher, Bob Wagner, Joel Boniek, Jerry O’Neil and Derek Skees were also featured on Frontline.  Again, groups and candidates cannot coordinate on campaign communications.

Candidates might be subjecting themselves to a range of penalties, including removal from office, fines, or worse.  The question is whether there is a prosecutor out there who is willing to begin looking into this stuff.  Generally, county attorneys stay away from political stuff, leaving it to the Commissioner of Political Practices.

Worse, the ATP’s headquarters is revealed by the documentary to be nothing more than a P.O. Box at a UPS store in Washington DC, even though the group is spending tens of millions of dollars on elections around the country and is the most influential source of money in Montana politics.  They were estimated to have spent well over a million bucks on just a handful of state legislative races in 2010.  They’d send mail to voters, which looked very much like electioneering material, something that is illegal if you are hiding who your donors are.

Not all ATP’s donors have been able to hide.  Investigative journalist Paul Abowd this week uncovered a document that revealed one of ATP’s largest bankrollers-a Colorado anti-union group called Coloradans for Economic Growth.

And I would say that this documentary, above all, is an outright humiliation for the Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who this summer rejected a request by Montana to reconsider the Citizens United ruling in light of the ATP’s shady, unreported, anonymously funded activities in Montana.  In rejecting Montana’s plea, Kennedy offered a single paragraph describing why he (the swing vote on the court) was refusing to consider the matter. He wrote that there was nothing that led him to believe that the ATP’s activities could lead to “corruption or the appearance of corruption.”

Kennedy, if he watched Frontline this week, probably wishes he could have that one back.  Because he is now revealed to be not a brilliant jurist but a stupid old man, who got duped by a bunch of bad actors.  Soon, groups like ATP will completely own our state and federal governments, using corporate money, installing candidates into office, from a P.O. Box, never revealing who the donors are.  And the Supreme Court  believes that this is all perfectly okay.



19 Comments on "Some Folks Might be Heading to the Pokey in Montana"

  1. Maybe they’ll be able to fill the Crowbar Hotel there in Hardin now. There sure as well wouldn’t be enough room in the “Lodge” unless the old prison is spruced up just a tad.

  2. Ha! You’ve stumbled upon ATP’s unintended economic development plan. BTW I’m surprised that the Havre Daily is the only paper to ask the legislative candidates to comment on their files appearing in this documentary. We’re lucky to have a non-Lee paper.

  3. The TEA Party has a new mailer designed to shame conservatives into voting by threatening to send their neighbors a notification if they don’t vote.

  4. Hell old Ed Butcher is still working hard at it. He had a letter to the editor in the Missoulian this morning instructing us which initiatives to vote yes on and which ones to vote no on. If I recall during the last session the Republicans were really concerned that we didn’t know what we were voting for in regard to medical marijuana. So I’m really glad old Ed took the time to spell things out for us, this should help a bunch. I have to question why a former Representative and Senator from Winifred chose the Missoulian.

  5. One guy who won’t being going to prison is former Rep. John Ward, the Republican porto-potty guy on Pothole Drive who apparently wouldn’t play ball and then found himself a victim of character assassination by Mike Miller, who did play ball.

    Frontline transcript:

    KAI RYSSDAL: The state of Montana kept its ban on corporate campaign spending for 100 years. And in the process, it built up some of the toughest campaign finance laws in the country.
    [voice-over] But of course, there were people who didn’t agree with the laws and wanted to get around them. One such effort came to light four years ago. To find out what happened, I went to meet a man on Pothole Drive.
    JOHN WARD, former MT State Rep.: We’re the biggest in the area, yeah.
    KAI RYSSDAL: John Ward owns Lil’ John’s Septic Service on the outskirts of Helena. He’s a Republican. He’s a Navy veteran. He’d been elected to the Montana legislature in 2004.
    JOHN WARD: This district actually encompasses this side of the valley, north—
    KAI RYSSDAL: He showed me around. And he told me about the surprise he ran into during his 2008 campaign.
    JOHN WARD: I knew that I was going to have opposition, but I had no concept whatsoever of the— the power and viciousness.
    KAI RYSSDAL: In the Republican primary that year, Ward faced a conservative challenger with little political experience, a guy named Mike Miller.
    JOHN WARD: He wasn’t a good campaigner. He was afraid of people, you know, and he wouldn’t appear at places.
    KAI RYSSDAL: And then just days before the primary, Ward’s district was blitzed with mailers from a bunch of outside groups attacking him.
    JOHN WARD: Here it is.
    KAI RYSSDAL: [on camera] Wow. “John Ward voted with criminal-coddling liberal activists.” “Are high energy prices killing you?” “John Ward had a choice.” Instead, you raised their taxes. “Mothers Against Child Predators”— “certified to be true and accurate.” Wow.
    JOHN WARD: Well, yeah, you can say anything you want.
    KAI RYSSDAL: So these went out a week before the election.
    JOHN WARD: Less than that, within the last four days. You have no time to respond that way.
    KAI RYSSDAL: [voice-over] Ward lost that primary to Mike Miller by just 24 votes.

  6. As a veteran, I disgusted with the Supreme Court’s ‘Five’ (could they be auditing for Fox I wonder?) ‘devotion to transparency, that is, they are TRANSPARENTLY stupid in their opinion corporations are people and money is speech!! We send troops to Iraq to
    help the Iraqi people and we shed American blood guarding their polling stations to prevent corruption and intimidation but the Supremes are so
    clueless its pathetic, especially since
    they elected a president in 2000. Have
    they no shame?

  7. They elected a president who made the court even more conservative with John Roberts as chairs. Roberts was a corporate whore from birth, which was well known and still our “Democrat” senator voted for him!! Thanks Max!!

  8. Old Line, Democrat | November 4, 2012 5:50 AM at 5:50 AM |

    If Fox wins AG, it will be praise for the methods, if Bucy wins and tries to prosecute, it will be a political vendetta with calls for removal from office.

    These plutocrats will stop at nothing to feed their greed.

  9. Thank you for all your time, research and coverage on the ATP and other pertinent issues in Montana.
    We’ve got the ATP’s state director living right in our community and he’s wreaked havoc for years;dividing the town. We appreciate all you are doing and for your wonderful sense of humor.

  10. Tom Burnett in HD63 also sent out a “pink lady letter” (we got one) supposedly written by his wife just before the election two years ago. Why isn’t some journalist (or the Bozeman Chronicle) just asking him flat out if that piece of campaign literature was written with the guidance of ATP?

    • You would think this is what any good journalist would do- but they don’t make em like get used to.

    • Because he would lie, and then the good journalist would be denied access to the candidate and campaign from then on. Hey, you asked …

      It strikes me that a ‘good journalist’ wouldn’t ask the candidate, but rather research the materials and simply point out what was found.

      • Of course Burnett would lie- look at what Warburton tried to say about someone supposedly stealing her “signature stamp”

  11. You should email that to Laura Lundquist at
    406-582-2638 |

  12. I’m still trying to get a handle on this issue. Is it or is it not a crime to have coordinated with WTP on the development of campaign materials?

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