Montana’s head elections regulator ruled this week that American Tradition Partnership illegally coordinated with a GOP legislative candidate, Dan Kennedy R-Laurel. Now, Montana’s top election regulator says he’s launching an investigation into other candidates ATP may have coordinated with.
ATP is the right-wing political attack group that was instrumental in bringing us the nation’s most bat-crap crazy state legislatures in 2011 and 2013. Kennedy’s primary opponent was but one of several GOP candidates who complained about ATPs activities to elect hard right-wingers over more moderate republicans.
As KUFM’s Dan Boyce reports, an investigation into illegal campaign activity
“is now expanding to include all candidates who similarly worked with ATP in 2010. Motl’s decision also criticizes Campaign Treasurer Corey Stapleton of Billings for failing to keep required records. Stapleton, now running for the U.S. House seat, said in an e-mail that he only agreed to be the treasurer if Kennedy delegated the administrative tasks to a deputy.”
The list of candidates will likely include, but is not limited to current and former legislators Mike Miller, Ed Butcher, Bob Wagner, Wendy Warburton, Jerry O’Neil , and Derek Skees.
We know this because their names were found in a box of documents in a meth house which later became the subject of a brilliant work of national investigative journalism. In a full-hour exposé of Montana politics and the secretive right-wing group, PBS’s show Frontline revealed that a secret stash of incriminating documents has been found in a meth house, showing extensive communications between these and perhaps other legislative candidates and the ATP, and showing that the ATP was even preparing campaign material for them.
You see, 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 were caught red handed, working together, in violation of the law.
The group has ties to other GOP legislators as well. Many of the candidates ATP attacked were not democrats but fellow Republicans who were deemed not conservative enough for ATP and the TEA Party. The uber-conservative Sen. Art Wittich (R-Bozeman), was lawyer for ultra-shady American Tradition Partnership. He served as Senate Majority Whip during the 2013 session and chief attacker of a small group of slightly more moderate Republicans who broke rank on a small number of bills.
The Commissioner of Political Practices decision and attached exhibits also include the names of GOP current and former lawmakers Joel Boniek, Ted Washburn, and Kelly Flynn.
These same meth-house documents also revealed that ATP’s financial backers include, among others:
TEA Party billionaire Ray Thompson, of Kalispell ($10,000)
former GOP legislator John Sinrud, of Bozeman
Intermountain Rural Electric Association ($25,000)
Former TEA Party Legislator Tom Burnett (R-Bozeman)
Flathead Timber, of Whitefish
Dan O’Neil Construction, of Billings
Soby Construction, of Bozeman
Raemaeker Insurance, of Choteau
Livingston developer Peter Mackenzie (various checks, thousands)
T. Baird Construction, Big Timber
developer Gateway Village LLC, of Bozeman
Jason Theilman, Steve Daines’ campaign manager
GOP Senator Bruce Tutvedt (R-Kalispell), who ironically became a target of the attacks
Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill (Apple Gilroy Inc.)
Big Timber TEA Partier Bob Faw
K12 Management Inc. Catholic religious private school corporation, Washington D.C.
Taxpayers for Liberty, Andrew J. O’Neill ($4k)
TEA Party Rep. Dan Kennedy (R-Laurel), Campaign account
Staff and Board
It takes a particular kind of person do to this kind of work. ATP employed people like Tim Ravndal, the TEA Partier who made national and statewide news for posting remarks that he was looking for a Wyoming instruction manual to deal with gay citizens–a reference to the Matthew Shepard murder. Former Republican legislator Dan Fuch’s R-Billings, was also on staff.
Its board members were also later revealed by a court to include Doug Lair, Terry Baird, Bob Faw, Peter MacKenzie, and Geoff Goeble.
The group operated under several names to further deceive Montana voters. As the Commissioner of Political Practices documents show, these names include “Montana Citizens for Right to Work” and the “Assembly Action Fund.” No doubt there were other groups, as many suspect, that will soon be revealed as investigations into these other races begins.
Other Shady Acts
Improper coordination with legislative candidates isn’t the only shady activity ATP is known for. 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.
What else they did will no doubt come out soon. The infamous documents found in the meth house are now in the hands of the FBI, and we’ll see what happens as the case moves forward in federal court.