Posted: July 15, 2014 at 6:34 pm

Responsible Republican Blog

A deliciously silly item to report today.

There is a new blog in Montana, an anonymous one, by the name of and written ostensibly by self-proclaimed “responsible Republicans.”  It takes aim at the Tea Party and the extremist faction of Republicans.

The headlines are very amusing as is the content, and as are the targets of the blog’s ire.  “Fiscally Prudent” is the title, for example, of a July 10 post, containing the following paragraph:

Along with our balanced budget and healthy ending fund balance Montana is a shining example of government that works. Thanks in large part to Republicans that fought their own party to make sure pensions were funded!

Funnier still is that the blog apparently will employ a strategy of accusing extremists of being fiscal liberals.  A July 1 entry is entitled “Essmann and Fielder: Big Spenders.”  Fielder is state senator Jennifer Fielder from Sanders County, who works with militia groups, believes all federal land including national parks should be reverted to private status, and is a Cliven Bundy aficionado.  And yet this moderate Republican blog has decided to try to take her down, or weaken her, by accusing her of being a “big spender.”  Interesting choice.

The toughest part of this effort is that the blog finds itself arguing that the state is in solid fiscal health, something that Republicans hate admitting because it means crediting Steve Bullock.  But a May 31 entry is headlined “State Government is NOT Growing” and features plums like this:

The latest falsehood created by Art Wittich and being repeated by the extremists is that the budget blew up three times faster than private sector growth.  Nice fuzzy terms to hide the lies.

So the obvious question is, who is behind this blog?

I’d say there are a few possibilities. First, perhaps the responsible Republican faction in Montana, led by Kalispell Senator Bruce Tutvedt and company.   Perhaps they raised some money and hired an operation.   Lord knows that there’s no sitting Republican official in Montana who could even start a website let alone put together a blog.  Perhaps some money has come from  DC, from a group such as Karl Rove’s American crossroads which sometimes takes the side of establishment Republicans in primaries.

But since it’s anonymous, it tells me that the authors are afraid to admit that they are not extremists.  Might it then be Bowen Greenwood and Will Deschamps, the director and chair of the state GOP?

Posted: July 15, 2014 at 6:05 pm

What You Will Not Read in the Lee Newspapers Story about the House Race Fundraising Numbers

If you read the Lee Newspapers story on who has raised how much in the race for Montana’s only congressional seat, you’ll find that Zinke, who had a hotly contested primary, raised $1.6 million for his entire campaign and has $97,000 in the bank.  But the Missoulian just reported that Zinke also has $83,000 in campaign debts, which leaves him with about $14,000 to spend.  To be sure, this includes $68k that he loaned his own campaign, which he isn’t obligated to pay back, but that’s a lot of money to just give up when his path to victory is anything but clear.

You’ll also read that John Lewis has raised $1.03 million for his entire campaign and that he has about $623,000 remaining in his campaign account.

While there always seem to be a few people talking around the water cooler who think it is important to simply look who has raised the most money, don’t buy it. The more important number to pay attention to is the cash on hand amount–because this shows a candidate’s ability to move voters over to her or his camp.

But what you won’t find in the Lee story is the anything about one of Zinke’s major fundraising apparatuses – the SOFA super-PAC he founded and which from his campaign has benefitted heavily. 

For some reason, the Lee Newspapers chose not to report anything from the super-PAC’s FEC report, which showed the Special Operations for Ryan Zinke America PAC had:

Beginning Cash On Hand $261,304

Ending Cash On Hand$103,535

Net Contributions $461,107

Net Operating Expenditures $496,377

Like Zinke, the SOFA-PAC spent more than it took in and has only about $100,000 left.  Because this PAC has been such a key part of the race so far, it’s unfortunate that no mention of it was made in the Lee story.

Posted: July 15, 2014 at 5:53 am

ANALYSIS: Charter Settlement a Good Deal for Montanans

A look at last months settlement between the state of Montana and Charter shows that the Bullock administration negotiated a settlement that is a pretty good deal for Montanans –especially when it comes to all those local governments and schools districts that have been waiting to receive millions in taxes that Charter had protested paying and couldn’t be spent.

To fully understand the settlement, there are two things we need to know first. (1) the taxes Charter owed,  (2) the taxes Charter had only paid under protest and wanted back.

What Charter Owed

First, Charter owed a significant amount in back taxes for 2007-2009 based on last Dec’s supreme court ruling.  The exact amount the company owed hasn’t been published, so I don’t know what it is, but we can get a pretty good estimate by looking at how much they paid in 2010 public information obtained by the Helena Vigilante.  it is safe to assume that the company’s total taxes for 2007-2009 would be about $21 million ($7m for each 2007, 2008, 2009). The company that used to own Charter, Bresnan Communications, actually paid $4.4 million of those taxes, so if you subtract these you can see that the company still owed about $15 million.

What Charter Wanted Back

Now lets talk about the taxes they had paid under protest–money that local schools weren’t allowed to spend because Charter was demanding it be returned to them. For 2010-2013, Charter paid a total of $43 million, but about $34 million of that has been sitting in tax protest escrow accounts.  This means that Charter was arguing that it should get ALL of this $34 million back.

Finally, the Supreme Court ruled in a separate ruling that Montana Department of Revenue was incorrectly valuing a portion of Charter’s property, called intangible personal property. The Department of Revenue was re-valuing other the telecoms’ property too, and it just announced its settlement with Verizon.) If you consider how much Verizon is receiving back, the intangible personal property may have been about 30% of the amount Charter was currently protesting.

All in All

So taking all this into consideration, the amount actually owed by Charter would have been about $10-12 million.  And the amount that it was entitled to receive back was probably about $10-13 million.

Now let’s look at what the deal Bullock’s administration negotiated.  Charter has to pay $8.3 million, and Charter will receive back $9 million.

The remaining $25 million in protest funds will be released to local governments and the state.

So Charter nets about $700,000.  Total.  That’s it. I’d call that a pretty good deal for Montana.

Especially when you compare that with what the Office of Budget and Project Planning (OBPP) estimated Charter would receive under the proposed ballot initiative: $65 million in back taxes they would get out of paying, and about $7 million future taxes they wouldn’t have to pay.

It’s also noteworthy that Charter spent over $425,000 on its signature gathering and other expenses related to the ballot initiative.

And, as Montana Budget and Policy Center points out, the company will continue to pay its fair share going forward, as a centrally assessed telecommunications company

Now, let’s answer one final question you may have heard from the Twitter conversation around this settlement, which is why did Charter take this settlement which is so obviously a win for Montana? Word on the street is that that Charter may have had the signatures to qualify I-172.  If that’s the case, why didn’t the company move forward with the initiative?

First, the MEA-MFT made it clear that it would pursue a legal challenge if the initiative qualified, and that legal challenge had a good chance in the courts.  While the Montana Supreme Court showed deference to the Attorney General’s decision to let the ballot initiative move forward, the Court made it clear that it was not ruling on the substantive legal challenges the measure faced.

And those substantive legal issues were significant.  As readers here know, public opinion was also turning on Charter.  The Billings Gazette actually issued two strong editorials opposing I-172.  And thanks to good organizing, social media, creative Montanans and readers here getting the word out, people were starting to hear what I-172 was actually about, and Charter customers were none too pleased.


Posted: July 14, 2014 at 7:34 pm

Backpedaling Underscores Land Transfer Problems

That didn’t take long.

Republican Party leaders are already trying to distance themselves from a costly land transfer boondoggle which was supported unanimously at the recent GOP platform convention. This after word is starting to get around about how the land transfer would increase our taxes by hundreds of millions, and inflict a major blow to Montana’s tourism economy especially in communities surrounding Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks like Kalispell, Bozeman, West Yellowstone and others.

Montana Republican Party Vice Chair Jennifer Fielder tried to tell a legislative panel Thursday that a report out-of-state land grab advocates are pushing “does not recommend transferring federal lands to state ownership or management” and that “None of the recommended legislation would transfer [land] either.”

Of course, the facts have already shown otherwise. Just last month Republicans unanimously supported including the land transfer in their party platform – without an exception even for national parks.  And then there’s the fact that not just two of  boondoggle’s biggest cheerleaders, Vice-Chair Jennifer Fielder herself (fast forward to about 45 min in) and Rep. Kerry White (TEA-Gallatin County) have been caught on video supporting the lands transfer.  And video evidence now exists of nearly every Flathead area conservative candidate supporting the transfer: Oops.

Fielder’s swift and very public backpedaling underscores the political difficulties facing this idea.

A recent University of Montana poll found that 2/3 of Montanans oppose the idea, which has already become a defining issue in Wyoming’s top 2014 races (and not in a way that helps TEA Party republicans.)  Utah’s own legislative legal council said the idea is likely unconstitutional (Utah passed a bill to do this which is already facing legal problems.)  The idea faces heavy political opposition a well. As Rep. Bill McChesney (D-Eastern Montana) pointed out during the legislative panel, “This state not for sale.”

This is the second time Republican leadership has had to try to distance themselves from the ideas surrounding this land transfer. At an event promoting the land transfer earlier this year the Missoula Independent reported that a speaker from Defend Rural America called the environmental movement “domestic terrorists.”


Posted: July 14, 2014 at 7:05 am

The Walgreens Tax Dodge

First it was Charter trying the force you to pay its taxes by buying its own ballot initiative.   Now, another corporation is using different tricks to get out of paying its taxes and pass them on to us.

Later this month–or perhaps in early August, the Walgreens corporation will announce whether it will undergo what’s called an “inversion” in corporate speak.  This would allow the company to renounce its corporate status in the U.S, move its corporate headquarters (on paper) to Switzerland, and dodge billions in federal taxes.

This means of course that Continue reading