Tag Archives: ATP

Montana is at the Forefront of National Fight Against Election Corruption

A Montana case is the next battle in the fight to keep elections from being for sale to the highest bidder by keeping campaign finance limits in place.

Now, a group of leading national legal non-profit advocacy groups including Free Speech for People, former Montana Supreme Court Justice James Nelson, the American Independent Business Alliance,  the American Sustainable Business Council, the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Justice at Stake and the League of Women Voters are joining Montanans in the fight to keep Montana’s campaign finance limits in place.

The groups joined the defense of Montana’s campaign finance limits with an amicus brief and and amici brief in Lair v. Motl.  They are urging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to overturn a District Court ruling that struck down Montana’s political campaign contribution limits.  Earlier, a District Court disregarded both Ninth Circuit and Supreme Court precedent to overturn Montana’s limits on contributions to state candidates, including judges, from individuals and political parties.

In Lair v. Motl, American Traditions Partnership board member Doug Lair wants campaign finance limits abolished.  Several prominent Republican office holders and candidates in Montana caught up in the infamous Meth House Scandal, in which documents belonging to the infamous American Tradition Partnership (ATP), were found in a Colorado meth house.  The documents incriminated TEA Party Senate leader Art Wittich, Mike Miller, Derek Skees, Pat Wagman, Jerry O’Neil, Bob Wagner, Dan Kennedy, Scott Mendenhall, Wendy Warburton, Ed Butcher, and Tom Burnett to name a few.  Wager, Burnett, Miller, O’Neil and Wittich are currently running for office.

Here’s how Ron Fein, Legal Director of Free Speech For People, explains it:  “Campaign contribution limits are justified by an interest in ensuring political equality for all, regardless of access to wealth. When political equality is jeopardized, democracy itself is at risk.”

Justice James Nelson, a former Justice of the Montana Supreme Court, and on of the court’s most respected justices, said, “Candidates for political office and elections should not be for sale to the biggest spenders. The Supreme Court has decreed that money equals speech; and contribution limits help to level a playing field tipped in favor of the big spenders by Citizens United.”  I could not agree more.

The District Court overturned the Montana’s candidate contribution limits applicable to individuals and PACs, even though the limits have already been upheld by the Ninth Circuit.

In addition to the limits on candidate contributions from individuals and PACs, the lower court struck down Montana’s limits as they apply to contributions from political party committees. Montana does not limit the amount that any individual or PAC may give to political parties, but instead restricts the “aggregate” amount a candidate can receive from his or her political party.

Surprisingly, the issue hasn’t been covered by Montana news outlets, even though its the next step in a nationwide battle to protect America’s and Montana’s elections from corruption.

After all, this case comes on the heels of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, which struck down longstanding limits on the total amount of money wealthy individuals could contribute to federal candidates in an election cycle. As with the Citizens United ruling which now allows unlimited corporate dollars into our elections, the high court’s McCutcheon decision is unleashing further money into the political process from wealthy interests.

We’ll see if it gets more attention by Montana reporters after the op-ed by Justice Jim Nelson and Ron Fein appeared in yesterday’s Billings Gazette.

Something Smells in Park County

A former  TEA Party Republican legislator is trying to get some special treatment under the law this week.

Former state lawmaker Pat Wagman trying to get a judge to let him be prosecuted by his fellow TEA Partier and local GOP candidate for legislature – Nels Swandal, who is currently the acting Park County Attorney.

Wagman is implicated in the infamous meth house scandal which involves allegations of illegal coordination with the dark money kingpins of American Traditions Partnership.  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 apparent violation of the law.

Park County’s deputy county attorney Kendra Anderson told the Livingston Enterprise that she and Swandal plan to get in on Wagner’s lawsuit to allow them prosecute it.

Readers will no doubt find it interesting that Kendra Anderson is also Nels Swandal’s law partner.

Swandal is running for the state legislature in Livingston’s SD 30 against Democratic candidate Mary Murphy–in spite of reports of alleged Judicial Code of Ethics violations which were reported in Montana papers across the state during the last election cycle. The allegations involve a fundraising letter sent out on ultra-conservative judicial candidate Laurie McKinnon’s behalf,  paid for by Laurie McKinnon’s campaign, metered in her hometown, signed by Nels Swandal while he was a sitting judge, which the judicial code of ethics says is not permitted.  The Billings Gazette reported that Swandal says

“questions posed by the Montana AFL-CIO to candidates ‘are among the most un-American ideas I’ve ever seen,’ and that he wouldn’t seek endorsement of the Montana Conservation Voters ‘because of their assault on private property.’”

So it sounds like Wagman is hoping evade accountability for his corruption.

Indeed no group has been more insidious than American Traditions Partnership in corrupting Montana’s elections. In a brilliant piece of investigative journalism, the PBS show Frontline reported on the documents uncovered in a meth house that revealed seedy underbelly of secret money in Montana’s elections, with a full-hour expose of Montana politics and this secretive right-wing group.

The Livingston Enterprise story does not appear to be online, but you can read it below–its definitely worth reading.  If someone has a link I’ll post it.

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Montana Ranks 3rd Nationally in TEA Party Members Per Capita

A new report ranks Montana third nationally in tea party membership as a percentage of the state’s population.

Wyoming ranked number two and Alaska had the highest percentage of TEA Partiers.  Still, the report from Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights showed MT TEA Party membership was much lower than what local groups have claimed, but its not like this bunch’s other claims have had much credibility either. Continue reading

Today’s Must-Read Political Blog Post

Is up at Intelligent Discontent, where Don Pogreba writes another of his excellent point by point take downs of shoddy journalism.

I’ve read some terrible headlines from Montana newspapers in my day, but today’s story headlined “Political practices commissioner accused of using questionable tactics to get results” has to be one of the worst. More accurate headlines would include “Those accused of campaign finance violations cry bitterly about it” or “Commissioner Motl works to restore trust in Montana elections.”

Go read it.

Mike Miller Latest Republican Under Investigation

State Rep. Mike Miller (R-Helmville) is the latest Republican legislator under investigation for illegal campaign activity, the AP reported.

His name was 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 American Traditions Partnership, and showing that the ATP was even preparing campaign material for them.

The list of others who could be investigated because documents and campaign materials with their names were found in the meth house includes–but is not limited to–current and former legislators Ed Butcher, Bob Wagner, Wendy Warburton, Jerry O’Neil, and Derek Skees. Rep. Dan Kennedy (R-Laurel) is already under investigation.

Miller announced the investigation on his own Facebook page, saying. “Well, before the press breaks the news, (or MT-Cowgirl), former MT Rep. John Ward has filed a complaint with the Commissioner of Political Practices over the 2010 primary, alleging coordination with Assembly Action Fund and ATP (WTP).” Screenshot.

He said he is “not commenting further at this time on the merits of my case.” Screenshot. However he added,

“One could wonder in the Kennedy case if a candidate buys something (paper) on sale at say WalMart and Staples has the same item at a higher price, just what is the fair market value of that item. Or if a candidate buys stamps at Costco at a 25 cent discount if Costco is making a corporate contribution to the candidate as it is less than the US Post Office charges which one could assume the CoPP would think was the “fair market value.”

Former Rep. Scott Mendenhall (R-Clancy) blamed the investigation on “More divisiveness out of the self-proclaimed ‘Business Republicans.'” Those alleged to have illegally coordinated with ATP are in the TEA Party camp.

ATP’s Tangled Web May Snare Others

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 Continue reading

Board Members of ATP Front Group Also Uncovered

by Cowgirl

The board of directors of an American Tradition Partnership (ATP) dark money front group operating in Big Timber have now come to light.

The good people of Sweetgrass County discovered that ATP has been operating a front group in their community under the name Citizens for Constitutional Integrity.  Board members of the front group include: 

Continue reading

Meet the ATP Board of Directors

by Cowgirl

A court has demanded that the dark money group American Tradition Partnership must reveal its board members, the Associated Press reported today.  Let’s meet them.

Doug Lair

ATP Director Doug Lair

ATP Director Doug Lair

Doug Lair (pictured right), resides in Sweet Grass County.

For some reason, ATP is operating in the county under a different name: Sweetgrass Citizens for Constitutional Integrity.  The group hosts an innocuously named website sweetgrassroots.org–and it’s really something to see.  On it, Mr. Lair warns his ATP followers that “Progressive programs and indoctrination have found their way into our local government and schools at an alarming rate.”

There is one insidious new influence in Big Timber that Mr. Lair is especially worried about.  He fears that a local economic development project of the Northwest Area Foundation may really be a secret “progressive indoctrination boot camp.”  Actually, the program gives grants to local communities for projects like sprucing up their business and industrial parks to help get the local economy moving.

When the FRONTLINE documentary exposing ATP’s activities was aired on PBS, Lair posted a tirade against PBS on the Sweetgrass Council/ATP website.  He accused the station of everything from “belittling Jesus” [screenshots here and here] to spreading anti-American views, to being part of a government conspiracy to vaccinate kids against diseases [screenshots here and here].

The site indicates that Sweetgrass County Commissioner Bob Faw is heavily invoved in the group.  It also helpfully lists the emails of all the legislators they say have done right by ATP in the legislature, so that you may thank them.


Geoff Goble

Not really a picture of Mr. Goble, probably

Mr. Goble 
is a  commercial property developer who also lives in the Big Timber area.  He’s also your garden variety secessionist.   He’s been linked with the website SovereignStateProject.com  According to this campaign finance complaint filed by former state legislator John Esp,  some ATP documents uncovered in a meth house  appear to show that Goble helped finance the pro-secession website.

Geoff Goble

The website proclaims such views as:

“The Project was inspired by Rep. Joel Boniek’s recent legislation in Montana and the clamor for states’ rights that is sweeping the U.S. We are part of a grassroots movement of ordinary citizens who are FED UP with the Federal Government.”


“States should seize back the power over their own borders and BOOT the Feds. Let them control ONLY the international borders, and stay out of our Sovereign States.”

The complaint also describes how Oathkeeper-affiliated Joel Boniek, Geoff Goble, and ATP worked together to defeat Esp and support Boniek’s campaign for state legislature.  Boniek was the former state legislator who made headlines after a bizarre incident which led to his arrest.  Goble has also signed his name to statements declaring that Earth Day is “straightforward paganism,” and a “tool used by those who seek to control individuals and engineer society.”


Peter MacKenzie 

Peter MacKenzie, ATP Bankroller

Man thought to be Peter MacKenzie, ATP Board member

Peter Mackenzie is a large land owner and Livingston real estate developer and a major bank-roller of ATP.  Here’s how he’s described in ATP’s donor prospecting notes, which were uncovered among the infamous meth house documents:

Peter Mackenzie

A Peter G. Mackenzie of Mackenzie Associates LTD from the Livingston zip code has given money to Burns, Daines, Fox, and Brown. His profile appears to match this Peter MacKenzie (pictured) who is described thusly:

“Over the past 25 years, Peter MacKenzie has developed and operated 200 plus nationally-known franchises. In addition to spending a number of years on Wall Street, he continued to raise and manage monies for clients. Peter has developed properties in Big Sky as well as currently owns and operates several retail businesses there.”

Peter Mackenzie check


Bullock on National Radar

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.


Big Timber, Big Money

Big Timber citizens have a reason to be particularly concerned about dark money groups like American Tradition Partnership.

The state leader for ATP, Doug Lair, resides in Sweet Grass County.  County Commissioner Bob Faw is even a major donor to the group.

For some reason, ATP is operating in Big Timber under a different name: Sweetgrass Citizens for Constitutional Integrity.  At the innocuosly named website sweetgrassroots.org, folks are told that they can:


“Help maintain the integrity of Big Timber by making a generous contribution to SGCCI here. Note- contribution receipts will appear from American Tradition Partnership.”


The ATP/Sweetgrass Citizens website is really something to see.  On it, Mr. Lair warns his followers that “Progressive programs and indoctrination have found their way into our local government and schools at an alarming rate.”

There is one insidious new influence in Big Timber that Mr. Lair is especially worried about.  He fears that the Horizons project of the Northwest Area Foundation may really be a secret “progressive indoctrination boot camp.”  (A simple google search shows that the program gives grants to local communities for projects like sprucing up their business and industrial parks to help get the local economy moving.)

Thankfully,  group of citizens in Big Timber smartly decided to bring  Big Sky, Big Money to the local theatre this Thursday, December 6th at 7:00pm and Sunday, December 9th at 2:00pm.  The documentary, which uncovered potentially illegal collusion between secretive right-wing group ATP and Republican candidates, is being shown FREE to all residents.

The showing seems to have upset Mr. Lair.  When he learned locals would be seeing the expose, he posted a tirade against PBS on the Sweetgrass Council/ATP website.  He accuses PBS of everything from “belittling Jesus” to spreading anti-American views, to being part of a government conspiracy to vaccinate kids against diseases.