Category Archives: Judicial

UPDATED 10-24: Two involved in Stanford fake voter guide scandal are fellows at right-wing think tank

More info has emerged on the 100,000 fake voters guides from Stanford and Dartmouth that flooded Montana this week, which were falsely presented as an official state mailing and urged voters to make a partisan decision in the non-partisan supreme court race.  Stanford University claims the mailers were part of an “experiment” on our elections, which is about an unethical as you can get.

Cowgirl tiptsters also report that Stanford University is affiliated with the conservative think tank the Hoover Institution, and what do you know–two of the people behind this experiment, Adam Bonica and Jonathan Rodden, are both Hoover Institution Fellows.

It’s also important to note that the Stanford Office of Sponsored Research (this is actually the name, no snark) doesn’t review studies for objectives or methodology, only for costs.

Also the Flathead Memo had obtained Stanford’s canned talking points on the election experiment scandal. So you can read them here.  Note that the talking points do not disclose who paid for the study.  Was it the Hoover Institution or one of their affiliated funders?  The “researchers” did not respond to multiple requests to disclose who funded the mailers.

Big Sky Words has more on the specific people behind the fake mailers. After he posted the names I was able to google them and found they were Hoover Institution Fellows.   The more you peek under the thin veil of pond scum, the more you see this looks less and less like a legitimate study and more and more like a right-wing ploy to influence our elections.

Out-of State Universities Seek to Influence MT Elections, Call it “Academic Experiment”

Send Deceptive Mailers Posed as Official State Voter Guide Linking Non-Partisan Candidates with Obama

Some troubling information has come to light today.  Stanford and Dartmouth universities have appartently produced a fake “voter guide” to instruct Montana voters to make a partisan decision on the non-partisan MT Supreme Court race.

The mailers, which are posted at the Flathead Memo here, also use the Montana State seal to provide the (false) impression that the mailing is an official state publication and paint our non-partisan supreme court candidates on a spectrum of who is most like Obama and who is not.  The Flathead Memo’s James Conner writes that the mailer:

resents information in a way that invites voters to conclude that researchers at two of America’s most prestigious universities want them to know that Mike Wheat is a very liberal man; almost as liberal as that black devil in the White House. Given the context, only a fool would conclude the card is intended to help Wheat.

The schools claim that the fliers are part of a study “on the impact of information about candidate positioning on turnout and ballot roll-off” in nonpartisan elections.

There are serious ethical problems with using our elections as a science experiment.  I’ve detailed some of them here:

1.  First, it simply not ethical to deliberately seek to influence the outcome of our elections to “see what happens” as a school political science experiment. The Montana Supreme Court race is our state’s most important statewide race this election cycle - and the outcome of the race could shift the balance of the court as a whole.

I suppose these professors from California and New Hampshire may think their little experiment is quite interesting.  They may think it is okay meddle in our elections because we live “out in the middle of nowhere,” because we don’t make a lot of money, and because we have a small population.  But these are our lives.  This is our Supreme Court. And it’s wrong to to use an election that has profound impacts on the lives of the people of our state as an academic experiment.

The Montana Supreme Court makes decisions that have real and very serious consequences - decisions about whether women have a constitutional right to medical privacy, whether discriminatory marriage and anti-equality laws will be allowed to stand, and on our constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment.  We live here, and we have to live with the decisions our Supreme Court makes.

2. Here in Montana, we the people have decided as a state that we want our Supreme Court elections to be non-partisan.  Apparently, Stanford and Dartmouth decided that the research questions of some of the professors at these schools outweighed the concerns Montanans had with partisan elections.

The Cowgirl Blog has obtained information on the research aims of this deceptive and unethical meddling.  It looks like the plan was to give our non-partisan candidates a partisan score, then to study the impact on turnout and outcome of making our non-partisan races partisan.  I guess they don’t care what we really think.  They probably think of us as a measly amount of inconsequential people in a flyover state.  Summary here.  Longer research paper here. 

It is unethical for these out-of-state universities to decide to paint our non-partisan candidates in a partisan light as an experiment to see what happens when our wishes as a state for non-partisan elections are violated.  Putting non-partisan races on a partisan spectrum also of course influences electoral outcomes, by making them more likely to come out along traditional partisan lines.

3. The third concern here is that is unethical for these universities to conduct their little experiment by disguising it as an official state publication, plastered with the Official State Seal of Montana.   Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices and Montana’s Secretary of State today called for an official investigation into the deceptive mailers. 

4. Apparently, the political scientists at Stanford and Dartmouth do not comprehend the impact of taking a non-partisan race in a conservative leaning state and painting one of the candidates as about as close to Obama as you can get and the other candidate as less like Obama–when Obama polls at 20% or whatever in this state.

If there is truly any political science professor anywhere who doesn’t understand how doing this will impact the outcome of an election, they should be immediately fired.  And predictably (by everyone except the imbeciles behind this “experiment”), the Montana Republican party, which has sued to make our Supreme Court races more partisan, is already touting how helpful these mailings are to their goals. 

5. There are also several questionable elements to the mailing–elements which are not particularly credible or scholarly and call into question whether the piece can actually be considered with a straight face part of any legitimate academic exercise.

First, according to information Cowgirl tipsters obtained from the U.S. post office, the bulk mail permit used to send these mailers belonged to:

 Progressive Direct Mail Advertising, Inc
2089 West 2300 South
Salt Lake City, UT  84119

For a mailing on behalf of an entity called:

Everest College
3280 West 3500 South, Suite A
Salt Lake City, UT  84119

If the mailings were really from Stanford and Dartmouth, why did they come from Everest College, which is part of an online for-profit education conglomerate and the subject of a recent federal bailout scandal. 

6. There are a couple of reasons this mailing is clearly intended to influence and elections and not provide academic assistance to voters. Urging Montanans to “Take this to the polls” on “Election Date: November 4, 2014” clearly makes this an electoral mailing and not a public service mailing.

There is also something odd about to whom the mailing was sent.  I’ve talked to several tipsters whose households received multiple copies.  When you get non-householded political mail like this, you often finds it comes from an unethical  mail house consultant who is billing on a per-piece basis. Which is something a consultant is only incentivized to do with mailing lists that are very very large in size – much larger than would be needed for an academic study sample size. UPDATE:  I’m told that Stanford now admits it sent 100,000 mailers in the Supreme Court race.  That’s a $50,000 dollar mailing injected into a race where both candidates have raised under $200k.

7. Another question that hasn’t been answered is whether and how part of the project.  This site uses the same “how much is a candidate like Obama” theme – only it uses little pictures of the candidates heads (note how close Wheat’s head is placed to Obama’s.  My question is whether this site is part of the Stanford and Dartmouth “study” and if not who is paying for it.

Finally, it needs to be disclosed who paid for these mailings.  Were they funded by the universities directly?  Through grants?   Who funded the grants? The people of Montana deserve to know.

 UPDATE: Those behind the mailer are fellows with the right-wing Hoover Institution, which is affiliated with Stanford.


Flathead Memo: Out-of-State Group Sends Fake Voter Guide to Deceive MT Voters

Another disturbing development in the Montana Supreme Court race today as more comes out on the radical right-wingers working to elect Lawrence VanDyk. VanDyke has practiced law in Montana for only one year (compared to Mike Wheat’s 36) having briefly worked for Tim Fox, but quitting in a huff because he didn’t want to work on the cases he was assigned.

An out-of-state group has produced a fake “voter guide” to instruct voters to make a partisan decision on the non-partisan MT Supreme Court race.  The mailers, which I have posted here, also use the Montana State seal to provide the (false) impression that the mailing is an official state publication.  The Flathead Memo has an analysis up on the mailer here, which you’ll want to go read.  James Conner writes that the mailer:

resents information in a way that invites voters to conclude that researchers at two of America’s most prestigious universities want them to know that Mike Wheat is a very liberal man; almost as liberal as that black devil in the White House. Given the context, only a fool would conclude the card is intended to help Wheat.


I’ll have updates as more information becomes available.  James Conner has the mailer posted so you can see it on his site.

Lawrence VanDyke Left Some Things Out of His Candidate Bio

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Montana Supreme Court candidate Lawrence VanDyke has omitted from his candidate bio and website that he is part of a group of attorneys called the Blackstone Project whose aim is to “reorder society” and turn the U.S. into a theocracy.

The Blackstone Project and its “Fellows,” of whom VanDyke is one, have committed to commit to using their legal careers “to ‘reorder society’ according to a ‘christendomic’ worldview, in which there is no separation between church and state,”  as the women’s reproductive health news organization RH Reality Check reports.  The Alliance Defending Freedom to Discriminate Against LGBT People runs the Blackstone Project.

The Cowgirl Blog has obtained information that shows VanDyke’s affiliation with Alliance Defending Freedom–and his membership in the group’s Blackstone Fellowship Project, which can be seen here. [screenshot]

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 8.05.32 AMAs RH Reality Check reports, Blackstone Project Fellows strive “to glorify God as society is reordered bit by bit according to His design.”  The project includes readings from the Christian Reconstructionism Movement.  As the Southern Poverty Law Center reports, Christian Reconstructionism is “a theocratic movement that seeks to demolish American democracy and replace it with the legal code of the Old Testament, which calls for stoning to death adulterers, homosexuals and in some cases, wayward children.”  

Lawrence VanDyke chose to omit these things from his candidate bio-nor does he mention his own bachelor’s degree in theology [screenshot]. These things are not mentioned on his webpage [screenshot] and he doesn’t mention them in his ads or in interviews with the media.

Voters have a right to know who this man really is and what his true objective is in this race. It’s pretty clear VanDyke left these things out because he knows that the voters of Montana don’t want our society reordered into a theocracy, taking us back to the Dark Ages. Plus these revelations wipe out his whole campaign message – in which he has tried to make the case that Montanans shouldn’t vote for someone who would inject personal ideology into the race–someone like VanDyke himself.

Indeed it seems there is somewhat of a cloud of secrecy not just around VanDyke’s role in the Blackstone Project, but around the Blackstone Project itself, which does not publicize its relationships between Project Fellows and state offices of Attorney’s General and has insisted in public statements that they are “not the illuminati.” So at this point we do not know if VanDyke was recruited to work for Fox specifically for Blackstone Project purposes or because Fox just works hard to recruit any variety of wingnut.

However,  it is interesting to note that Tim Fox’s replacement for Van Dyke is said to be an Alliance Defending Freedom attorney too.  Word on the street is that Dale Schowengerdt, who made a name for himself defending business owners who discriminate against LGBT people, will be the next solicitor for AG Fox.  He’ll likely show up in the marriage equality case pending before Judge Morris in Great Falls. (That’s the case VanDyke is alleged to have quit over after refusing to work on it.) If it comes out that Fox is recruiting lawyers based on their goals to reorder society into a theocracy then this issue indeed could become not just Van Dyke’s problem but Fox’s as well.  

Perhaps it is time for another public records request for all communications between Fox’s staff and this group.

Hate Group Hosted Fundraiser for Lawrence VanDyke

Today, more details were revealed about the Washington DC fundraiser held for Supreme Court Candidate Lawrence VanDyke by the so-called Family Research Council, a group the the Southern Poverty Law Center designated as a hate group.

If you aren’t familiar with this group yet, you should know that the Family Research Council is totally dedicated to promoting hatred, denigration, misinformation and discrimination against  LGBT Americans.  The group’s leader is Tony Perkins who is on the record as supporting Uganda’s “kill all gays” bill.  [screenshot here] The group even lobbied Congress to try to convince the U.S. not to condemn the Ugandan law.

Tony Perkins has a history of working with white-supremacist organizations, the SPLC explains:

In 1996…Perkins paid $82,500 to use the mailing list of former Klan chieftain David Duke. The campaign was fined $3,000 (reduced from $82,500) after Perkins and Jenkins filed false disclosure forms in a bid to hide their link to Duke. Five years later, on May 17, 2001, Perkins gave a speech to the Louisiana chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), a white supremacist group that has described black people as a “retrograde species of humanity.”

As Right Wing Watch reported today, among those donating to VanDyke at the fundraiser were prominent figures in the War on Women and anti-gay movements, including leaders of the militant anti-choice group Americans United for Life , Koch Brothers-funded groups, and the anti-gay hate group Alliance Defending Freedom.

Today’s Must-Read Political Blog Post

Is up on Preserve the Beartooth Front, where David Katz writes about how the Montana Supreme Court race could impact the front’s future.  You can read it here:

Outside corporate interests are trying to shift the balance of the Montana Supreme Court. What it means for oil drilling along the Beartooth Front.


Montana Supreme Court Candidate Compares Pregnant Women to Animals in Emails about Abortion Ban

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An email from a candidate for the Montana Supreme Court surfaced this week in which he compared pregnant women and fetuses to animals.

Suggesting that if it applies to animals, it applies to women, VanDyke sent an email from his state government account to an Ohio attorney recommending that Ohio amend an amicus brief to reference animal pain statutes to bolster the case against women’s medical privacy in Ohio.  You can read VanDyke’s email and his edits to the referenced amicus brief here.

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 10.00.57 PMThe fact that VanDyke spent so much time on right-wing causes in other states like this has recently become a focal point in the Supreme Court race. You see, during VanDyke’s very brief stint as a Montana Department of Justice employee, he spent much of his time chasing down right wing lawsuits in other states rather than working on Montana laws as he was asked.  

According to emails from high-ranking DOJ management, KXLH reported, this created frustrations and problems for the other attorneys who had to pick up his slack while VanDyke pursued his wingnut agenda in other states instead of doing the Montana work we taxpayers were paying him for.

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 9.53.15 PMEven worse, VanDyke fails to grasp that women, unlike animals, have fully functioning brains and the ability to make choices.  VanDyke isn’t just comparing women to animals: he’s assuming that women are incapable of making our own medical decisions and that, like animals, he should be making choices for us.

Montana doesn’t need a judge who applies animal laws to women.

But at least with these remarks coming to light one mystery is solved.  We now know why the National Republican Party is spending more on this race than VanDyke has raised himself for his entire campaign.  This is a party for which comparing women to animals to try to justify taking away our basic constitutional rights is a key tenet.

TEA Party Republican Rep. Keith Regier made statewide news in 2011 when he compared pregnant women to livestock in the Montana legislature.  And TEA Party Republican Rep. Krayton Kerns earned national derision when he compared Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke to a rutting bulldog for advocating for contraception coverage. And there have been many others who have done this on the national scene.


BREAKING: National Far Right Working to Flip MT Supreme Court

Today, a national exposé  by Right Wing Watch revealed that right-wing religious extremists and the corporate right have been quietly working to pour massive amounts of out-of-state money into the Montana Supreme Court race hoping to change the balance of the Montana Supreme Court. 

As Miranda Blue writes for Right Wing Watch, the extremists are:

hoping to topple a court majority that has bucked the U.S. Supreme Court on campaign finance issues and could soon hear cases with national implications challenging the state’s marriage equality ban and its abortion clinic buffer-zone law.

The national right hopes to buy a Supreme Court seat for Lawrence VanDyke. You can read the whole exposé here.




Former Colleague Says Voters Should be Concerned about VanDyke

The email below from a former colleague of Supreme Court Candidate Lawrence VanDyke was forward to me recently.   Mr. Black is very high up within the Montana Department of Justice and thus has unique insight.  I’ve pasted the email in its entirety below.

As you know, after a few decades in private practice, I have spent the last few years working as the Civil Bureau Chief in the Montana Department of Justice.  I have spent considerable time lately defending constitutional challenges to Montana laws, including First Amendment challenges to our election laws.  I am concerned about the potential ramifications of the upcoming election, especially with respect to the Montana Supreme Court.  You may not be closely following the race between Justice Mike Wheat and Lawrence VanDyke, so I want to take this opportunity to share a few thoughts and let you know how important it is to re-elect Justice Wheat.

Montana’s Supreme Court elections have been non-partisan for nearly 80 years, and for good reason.   A Montana Supreme Court justice has a very important job, and candidates should be judged on their own qualifications, not by whether they are Ds or Rs.  VanDyke, however,  insists on turning the Supreme Court election into a partisan race, as demonstrated by his campaign website:  At a recent candidate’s forum, VanDyke’s partisan attacks were on full display (audio link::  Listening to the forum takes a little time, but I hope you agree it is worth it.

VanDyke came back to Montana from Texas in order to work for Attorney General Tim Fox in early 2013.  Few people in Montana know much about VanDyke.  He resigned from his position in the Attorney General’s office in January 2014, and has not worked there for months (even though his website still characterizes Attorney General Tim Fox as his “boss”).   I worked with VanDyke for over a year, and had the opportunity to see him in action.  He has little experience with the Montana legal system, and showed little interest developing a working knowledge of how to practice in our courts.  It is my opinion that VanDyke lacks the maturity and work ethic we should expect of someone aspiring to be a Supreme Court justice.

In a recent Great Falls Tribune article, the Director for the Center for Law, Philosophy, and Human Values at the University of Chicago Law School, Brian Leiter, recalled his experiences with Mr. VanDyke several years ago on the issue of a book review written by VanDyke about “intelligent design.” (link:  Professor Leiter believes Mr. VanDyke’s writing on the topic was “intellectually dishonest” and notes:  “Are his religious commitments so strong that it’s going to lead him to ignore the law when they conflict? In that book review, he ignored the science, he ignored the philosophy and he ignored the logic. That would be bad news if he does the same thing as a judge.”

I believe everyone should be free to practice their chosen religion and I admire persons of faith.  Judges, however, should only be concerned with the law.  Based upon my recent experiences with VanDyke, I share Professor Leiter’s concerns — especially with respect to Montana’s election laws.  For example, based upon freedom of religion under the First Amendment, VanDyke has told me he does not believe Montana should be able to regulate speech by religious organizations in our elections.   It would not be difficult for “dark money” interests to use religious organizations as a front to avoid regulation or disclosure.  I am concerned that VanDyke will not cast aside his personal beliefs on these sorts of issues if elected to the bench.

An article on  the recent candidates’ forum discusses the candidates’ views on First Amendment and “dark money” and partisan politics  in judicial elections (links: and ).  My conversations with VanDyke lead me to believe that he does not support many (if any) of our important election laws, including  Montana’s attempts to require disclosure of those behind “dark money” and their activities in Montana elections.

Mike Wheat is longtime Montana resident and practicing attorney.  He is a decorated combat veteran.  He obviously cares about equal justice for all.  Wheat is a distinguished jurist, and deserves to be re-elected.  I hope you agree, and will take the time to discuss this important election with your fellow attorneys, friends , and clients.

Thank you for taking the time to read this email.

I do not speak on behalf of the Montana Department of Justice or Attorney General.  I do not sent this email in coordination with, or even with the knowledge of, any candidate or organization.  I am simply speaking out as a Montana voter on this very important Supreme Court election.  And I would be happy to talk with you further about these matters if you’d like, just let me know.

Michael G. Black

Attorney at Law

P.O. Box 318

Clinton, MT  59825-0318



Meet the Corporations that Want a Montana Supreme Court Seat

Corporate Lobbyists, GOP Operatives Set Up PAC to Back TEA Party Supreme Court Candidate

A barrage of mailers arrived in Montanans’ boxes this week, sent by a group calling itself Montanans for a Fair Judiciary PAC.   The newly-created PAC is spending big money to put another TEA Partier into the Supreme Court who will represent corporate interests over yours.

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A look at who is behind the mailers makes it clear that the Montana Republican machine is kicking its big money power brokers into gear for VanDyke. Here we see they have set up yet another corporate astroturf PAC to use big money to drown out citizens’ interest in the Montana Supreme Court race.

Let’s look at who’s really behind this newly created “group.”   The so-called “Montanans for a Fair Judiciary PAC” was filed on Sept. 9, 2014 with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Office. The PAC’s officers are listed as Jesse Luther, Wendy Smith, and Jake Eaton. Smith and Eaton both list 47 North Communications as their place of employment and e-mail contact.

Readers of this blog know Jake Eaton well.  He’s the former Executive Director of the Montana Republican Party–the one who was forced to resign over the scandal to make it more difficult for 6,000 Montanans to vote.   Eaton has also worked for former  TEA Party Congressman Dennis Rehberg and the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Eaton’s firm was the one Jason Priest and Ed Walker used to do the dirty work of the dark money group they set up to buy the last Supreme Court race for TEA Partier Laurie McKinnon. But they weren’t satisfied with just one seat. Priest, Wittich, Essmann and others were the TEA Party were caught emailing each other about their plot to take over the supreme court when a reporter their plot was leaked to the press last session.  

And yes, this is the same group is the group Art Wittich and Jason Priest used send mailers out to attack moderates who tried to support medicaid expansion last session.

Wendy SmithThe treasurer of the Montana for a Fair Judiciary PAC is Wendy Smith, who is not identified on the 47 North website, but does have a 47 North e-mail address and lists it on the PAC’s official paperwork, as you can see here: Montana for a Fair Judiciary PAC – Filing with Office of Commissioner of Political Practices

Leo Barry, Corporate Lobbyist, has set up a political action committee to influence the Supreme Court race in his favor.

Leo Berry, Corporate Lobbyist, whose firm has set up a political action committee to influence the Supreme Court race in his favor.

The third agent of the Montanans for the Fair Judiciary PAC is Jesse Luther, an attorney with Browning, Kaleczyc, Berry and Hoven, P.C., one of Montana’s largest corporate law firms. Luther is an Associate of the firm, serving its two notorious top extractive industry and large corporate lobbyists, Leo Barry and Mark Taylor.

Mark Taylor, Corporate Lobbyist

Mark Taylor, another Corporate Lobbyist whose firm set up a PAC to influence the outcome of the Supreme Court Race

If you’re not yet familiar with the work of Berry, Taylor and Luther, you’ll know their clients.

Here are a few as listed at the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices):

Coal Mountain Mining, LP

Montana Contractors Association

National Association of Publicly Traded Partnerships

3M Traffic Safety and Security Division

Intoximeters, INC


Montana Self Insurers Association

Consumer Data Industry Association

Phillips 66

MHA, Montana Hospital Association, “An Association of Montana Health Care Providers”

BNSF Railway Company

Benefis Healthcare

Anheuser-Busch Companies

Ash Grove Cement Company

and several others…

(Don’t you just love that they can work for Monsanto, Big Booze and the Hospitals at the same time.)

The fact that Leo Berry and Mark Taylor are going after Mike Wheat and putting big money behind VanDyke is indeed telling. These corporations want a court that represents their interests over ours.


P.S. With every day that goes by it becomes more clear that Lawrence VanDyke is a TEA Party Republican with strong ties to the GOP’s right wing and big corporate interests. One only needs follow the money to see the truth–you won’t get it from VanDyke, which is troubling.