Montana Governor Steve Bullock’s election and fight for clean campaigns are garnering national attention this week, earning Montana a spot among the Huffington Post’s 25 best progressive victories of 2012.
Peter Drier writes:
The Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010 — equating money with free speech — unleashed a flood of money from billionaires and corporations, much of it through hard-to-trace “super-PACs” and so-called “social welfare” organizations.
In the wake of that ruling, Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock defended his state’s Corrupt Practices Act, which banned corporate campaign funds, all the way to the Supreme Court. The court overturned the Montana law 5 to 4, undermining the ability of states and cities to restrict corporations from trying to buy elections.
Although Bullock lost that fight, Montanans admired his populist ideals and elected him governor in November. That same day, Montana voters also supported Initiative I-166, which endorsed a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, by a 74.8 percent margin.
The final shoe dropped this week on one group that tried to keep Bullock out of the governor’s office. The
criminal enterprise “social welfare organization” known as American Tradition Partnership (ATP), a group that has spent millions of dollars in Montana electing (or trying to elect) GOP candidates like Bullock’s opponent Rick Hill while defiantly ignoring state campaign finance rules.
The group, laughably, tried to argue that their mailers and other advertisements spreading lies about Democratic candidates in 2010 and 2012 were not “political activity” as defined under Montana law. Rather, ATP argued, these ads and mailers were “issue advocacy.”
Among the many shameful examples of this group’s “advocacy” for “issues” was a fake newspaper circulated widely during the Bullock-Hill contest for governor, which depicted Steve Bullock in a lineup of sex offenders. This was ATP’s way of “advocating” for tougher sentences for sex offenders, which they claimed (falsely, of course) Bullock was opposed to. So that gives you a flavor of the type of business this group is in. By the way, the ATP’s headquarters is a P.O. Box at a mall in Washington, DC, a fact uncovered by the great PBS documentary that shed light on this miserable group back in October.
There are also some fifteen GOP legislators who owe their seats to the ATP (which spent enormous sums of money putting them in office) and are now in hot water because they appear to have been engaged in possible illegal coordination with the group. One of ATP’s favorite tricks was to send out mass-produced, hand-written letters that appeared to come from a candidate’s wife, a scheme that would appear to break the firewall that is supposed to exist between third-party groups and candidates.
Ironically, these letters are now the subject of a lawsuit by Republican legislators against their former primary opponents, as reported in the Bozeman Chronicle reported. Meanwhile, the Missoula Independent reported that more “wife letters” from other GOP races surfaced this week.
ATP’s only staff person, Donny Ferguson, recently resigned.
What does any of this mean going forward? Most likely there will be fines, but I doubt any lawmakers will be forced to resign their seats.