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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.”
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.
Last night, FRONTLINE revealed that ATP documents found in a meth house appear to contain evidence of “possible illegal ‘coordination’ between” the group and the candidates it supported, the Atlantic reported.
The boxes contained files on Mike Miller, Ed Butcher, Bob Wagner, Wendy Warburton, Jerry O’Neil and Derek Skees, who is now a candidate for statewide office. Butcher and Miller were discussed extensively on the FRONTLINE piece. The other names you can see in these screenshots.
But that’s not the only juicy information thought to be lurking in those boxes. They also contain ATP’s Wells Fargo bank statements, and the names of some of the groups secret donors.
The group filed a “motion for protective order” in court last month to try and require the Commissioner of Political Practices to keep these public documents secret because it contained the names of ATP donors. The state of Montana and ATP have filed briefs on the question of whether they can be made public. Thanks to tipsters you can download them here and here.
The Montana Commissioner of Political Practices rejected a complaint by TEA Party Republicans this week. They claimed that their voting records on public spending and personal largesse were misrepresented by local Democrats.
The TEA Party legislature tried to shut down the state by blocking education and jobs–claiming a fake budget crisis, but the facts shows Tea Party lawmakers grabbing from the government trough.
Rep. Tom Burnett, of Bozeman, and Rep. Cleve Loney, of Great Falls, had filed a complaint against a flyer that exposed the big bump in taxpayer-funded personal compensation they gave themselves–while cutting education, jobs, and food for Montana families. In an attempt to hide their hypocrisy from their base of low information voters, Burnett and Loney tried to claim that the campaign materials were untrue.
Rep. Cleve Loney (R-Great Falls) with megaphone.
Here’s where the story goes Keystone Kops. It’s a classic case of TEA Party dysfunction and imbecility. The law on which Burnett and Loney had tried to base their complaint–a law against misrepresenting voting records–has already been struck down in a case brought by the Tea Party-aligned Western Tradition Partnership, the OPP ruling shows.
Yeah, that’s the same Western Tradition Partnership that bought the election for idiots like Burnett and Loney. So even if the flyer was wrong (it isn’t), the very group that elected the TEA Partiers got a judge to block the law the OPP would have needed to correct the record.
If you want to know why the Montana Republican Empire has been on a sure and steady decline in the last several years, all you need to do is see a few of the GOP’s leading legislators in action, trying to hatch a plot against Schweitzer. For that, read Intelligent Discontent on the Associated Press piece about a peach of an e-mail that made the rounds this week, courtesy of GOP Senators Ed Buttrey and Jim Peterson.Tweet
A big brouhaha erupted this weekend at the Office of Political Practices.
On Sunday, John Adams of the Great Falls Tribune broke the story that four workers at that office, permanent state employees, went to Adams and told him that Gallik was committing ethical violations because he was mixing his public duties with with his private law job.
According to the Adams story and subsequent reports, the four women, pictured below, alleged that Gallik sent e-mails on the state system in which he conducted his private legal business affairs, which is not permitted. The four clerical employees also alleged that Gallik had not properly filled out his time sheet, and was crediting himself for more hours than he had actually worked. Gallik did send emails to his law office, the Tribune article revealed, and he admitted to having filled out his time sheet improperly but said it was done under a misunderstanding of the rules of state compensation. He said he subsequently corrected the error after receiving guidance from these women and from the governor’s chief advisor.
There was a definite buzz going around the web after this story appeared. Some said it was Gallik’s folly to try to juggle these two careers. Some bloggers sensed a fishy smell surrounding the entire situation. Highly discussed on several blogs were various suggested motives of the employees to have gone through Gallik’s office and take photos of the content of his desk as they did.
Also a big topic of discussion was the photo of the four women, glaring out at readers in a marinade of rage, with a dash satisfaction, several of their faces exhibiting a barely detectable yet unmistakable smirk. Predictably, some sexist comments made their way around the blogs. Here we stick to business and facts.
Tipsters to this blog, and commenters elsewhere, have suggested that these women had it in for Gallik. That’s certainly possible.
Even though Gallik had clearly done some nos-nos, it’s hard to imagine that an entire workforce would try to bring him down in such a methodically lethal way, essentially declaring him a criminal, for some modest infractions that seem to stem more from Gallik’s ignorance of the rules than anything else. Plus, there are probably many state workers who make occasional use of state computers to send personal e-mails. Whether Gallik’s use was pervasive enough to require a termination is an interesting question.
Also, these women could not possibly know how much time, outside of the office, Mr. Gallik put toward his government work. Perhaps Gallik worked nights at home. Gallik had evidently kept up with all of his work and issued decisions at a fast pace, and without incurring the expense of having to hire the outside attorneys (because he is one himself) that previous commissioners used, and says he thus saved the state some money.
Gallik also says he had butted heads with these staffers, in his attempt to convert the office of political practices–a notorious bog of bureaucracy, inefficiency and futility–from a paper system to an paperless one, an online digital filing system for candidates, lobbyists and the like. In essence, Gallik seems to be saying that these gals were were resisting a modernization of an operation that they have overseen for many years, and wanted him gone.
There are two other items that should raise a flag, which emerged in Mike Dennison’s account of the matter. First, after the story broke, Gallik was in the Political Practices office and stepped out for a bit. During that time, the women decided to put in a call to the police. Why? They say that they thought he’d be talking to the press and thus the police should be alerted “in case he got upset.” They admitted, however, that they didn’t think he could ever present any sort of threat. I’d say the call to the cops was frivolous, and maybe worse.
At any rate, after the phone call to the police, Gallik called it quits, announcing that he believed these women were out to ruin him and that he could not afford the damage they were seeking to do to him. Clearly, reading between the lines, these women were probably not enjoying having to report to him, for whatever reason.
No doubt more exciting information will be dribbling out, as it always does. But the facts are that Gallik is out, but the staffers will continue on as part of the permanent government. A new commissioner will eventually arrive, and will have the pleasure of dealing with these cheery-looking folk.Tweet