On his first day on the job, U.S. Senator John Walsh (D-MT) got right to work.
Among his first acts was to announce his plans to co-sponsor the Campaign Disclosure Parity Act, the Center for Public Integrity reports, which will make campaign finance reports more transparent, more quickly.
The bill requires senators and Senate candidates to electronically file their campaign finance disclosures with the Federal Election Commission. Its main sponsor is fellow Montanan Jon Tester, who Montanans sent to Washington after becoming fed up with the corruption and pay-to-play games of Conrad Burns.
Michael Beckel has just published a new profile on the dark money group a GOP state senator used to influence the Montana state Supreme Court race and block the Medicaid expansion.
The profile shows how Priest used dark money to demonize Supreme Court candidates Ed Sheehy and Elizabeth Best in support of a TEA Party candidate. Priest also used the dark money group to send out attack mailers to kill the Medicaid expansion. Because of Priest’s actions, 70,000 of Montanan’s most disadvantaged working poor won’t be able to get health care.
Beckel, who writes for the Center for Public Integrity, published the report on the heels of a new analysis by the National Institute on Money in State Politics that found Montana is one of 35 states where rules regarding the disclosure of political spending by independent groups are less stringent than federal election law.
There’s much more on this, so check out the links in Beckel’s story above.Tweet
The Center for Public Integrity has issued an update to a story they published yesterday about drug industry campaign donations. Previously, the Center for Public Integrity had reported that the drug company lobby “PhRMA” provided the primary financial support for TEA Party Sen. Jason Priest’s “Montana Growth Network.”
Late Friday afternoon, the Center for Public Integrity issued a new story saying that their previous report was incorrect. I had blogged about the old report here. This post has been updated to reflect that correction. The Center for Public Integrity had previously reported that $500,000 in PhRMA cash went to Jason Priest’s “Montana Growth Network.”
In fact, the money actually went to an organization called “Montana Growth” which CPI reports is linked to a PR firm called Hilltop Public Solutions. That group has an office in Billings, MT.
When contacted about the money, Hilltop refused to answer questions:
When the Center for Public Integrity called the D.C. office of Hilltop Public Solutions to inquire about Montana Growth, an intern who answered the phone said, “We don’t take calls for that group here.”
Schuyler, via email, directed the Center to “firstname.lastname@example.org” — bigskygrowth.org is a Web domain name that was created Friday, shortly after the public relations firm was contacted by the Center, according to a website registry report.
An unattributed reply came back that stated: “Thank you for your questions. It is the organization’s policy to not publicly comment on its advocacy or budget.”
In 2010 the group, formerly known as “Economy Forward” spent $175,000 on television ads for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
In a brilliant piece of investigative journalism, the PBS show Frontline has revealed the seedy underbelly of secret money in elections, with a full-hour expose of Montana politics and a secretive right-wing group known as American Tradition Partnership, or ATP.
Numerous Republican candidates might have worked too closely with ATP, and could be in trouble legally if not electorally. They might be going to the pokey (meaning the clink, the one in Deer Lodge.)
The short story is that 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 have been caught red handed, working together, in violation of the law. The Frontline documentary reveals that a secret stash of incriminating documents has been found, showing extensive communications between Republican legislative candidates and the ATP, and showing that the ATP was even preparing campaign material for them.
The Havre Daily News, for example, reported today that GOP legislator Wendy Warburton appears to have been in direct communication with the group, even going so far as to send them a “signature stamp,” presumably so they could send out mailings on her behalf, using her signature. That’s likely to be found illegal under Montana law.
Files on Mike Miller, Ed Butcher, Bob Wagner, Joel Boniek, Jerry O’Neil and Derek Skees were also featured on Frontline. Again, groups and candidates cannot coordinate on campaign communications.
Candidates might be subjecting themselves to a range of penalties, including removal from office, fines, or worse. The question is whether there is a prosecutor out there who is willing to begin looking into this stuff. Generally, county attorneys stay away from political stuff, leaving it to the Commissioner of Political Practices.
Worse, the ATP’s headquarters is revealed by the documentary to be nothing more than a P.O. Box at a UPS store in Washington DC, even though the group is spending tens of millions of dollars on elections around the country and is the most influential source of money in Montana politics. They were estimated to have spent well over a million bucks on just a handful of state legislative races in 2010. They’d send mail to voters, which looked very much like electioneering material, something that is illegal if you are hiding who your donors are.
And I would say that this documentary, above all, is an outright humiliation for the Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who this summer rejected a request by Montana to reconsider the Citizens United ruling in light of the ATP’s shady, unreported, anonymously funded activities in Montana. In rejecting Montana’s plea, Kennedy offered a single paragraph describing why he (the swing vote on the court) was refusing to consider the matter. He wrote that there was nothing that led him to believe that the ATP’s activities could lead to “corruption or the appearance of corruption.”
Kennedy, if he watched Frontline this week, probably wishes he could have that one back. Because he is now revealed to be not a brilliant jurist but a stupid old man, who got duped by a bunch of bad actors. Soon, groups like ATP will completely own our state and federal governments, using corporate money, installing candidates into office, from a P.O. Box, never revealing who the donors are. And the Supreme Court believes that this is all perfectly okay.