It’s been another wacky year if TEA Party nutjob antics. From voting to keep prison sentences for being gay to a slew of racist remarks and terrible ideas, Montana elected officials, TEA Party activists, and candidates brought the crackpot craziness to mainstream politics in an embarrassing way.
The Montana Family Foundation’s Jeff Laszloffy suffered a slew of losses this session, but perhaps none was felt so bitterly as his failure to get a parental consent legislative referendum on the ballot for 2014. The Family Foundation’s legislative referenda work was the organization’s major cash cow last election cycle. Since Laszloffy failed to get the measure on the ballot for 2014, the Family Foundation’s ability to impact elections has now evaporated.
Cowgirl readers will recall that Governor Steve Bullock allowed Laszloffy’s unconstitutional bill to become law solely so that the bill can be struck down in Montana’s courts. As John Adams at The Lowdown reports, the move allows women to immediately challenge the measure in court long before an identical referenda passed by the legislature gets to the ballot in 2014.
Sure, Laszloffy knew that the measure was unconstitutional–everyone knew it. But Lazloffy’s purpose in pushing it was electoral, not policy-driven.
You see, last election cycle Laszloffy raised some $300,000–purportedly for the parental notification legislative referenda which was sent to the ballot by the 2011 legislature. Montana Family Foundation’s Incidental Ballot Committee Reports in 2012 show they were able to raise and spend $320,000 in 2012.
In a typical year, the Family Foundation raises about $20,000 for electoral work. But because of the LR, LR-120, they were able to raise more than 15 times that amount. You can see the reports below.
$18,000 May 8-May 24
$3,000 May 25-June 18
$2,000 June 19-July 3
$6,000 July 4 -Aug 3
$29,000 Aug 4-Sept 3
$191,000 spent Sept 15-Oct 15
$3,000 spent Oct 16-Oct 25
$68,000 spent Oct 26-Nov 19
For one thing, this is money that could be used to supplant Family Foundation funds that had been going toward Laszloffy’s salary. What’s also interesting is that the campaign finance reports for Laszloffy’s ballot committee shows that some of the money he raised was leveraged to actually help the GOP’s top targeted legislative races–not just the ballot initiative.
Here’s a screenshot from his “incidental ballot committee’s” campaign report. It reports the expenditure Lazsoffy made for a mailer that was about the ballot measure on one side, and a top tier targeted GOP race on the other. This means that all of the polling and research Laszloffy did for these mailings was supporting the GOP’s legislative candidates too.
Thanks to Cowgirl tipsters for pointing out these fundraising anomalies. Reader tips are the essence of this blog. Send tips to mntnacowgirl (at) gmail.comTweet
On Tuesday, the Montana Senate voted, finally, to erase our “anti-sodomy law” which makes it an imprisonable crime to be gay. Although invalidated by our state supreme court in 1997, the law has remained on our books because Republicans have always refused to go along with efforts to scrap it.
But yesterday, SB 107, a measure to strike the offensive language from our statutes finally passed the senate. That said, the vote was far from unanimous. Ten Republicans voted no. They are:
As of the time of this posting, with vote counts still coming in, it looks like the make-up of the Montana senate may be 21 Democratic senators to 29 Republicans in the next legislative session. Democrats and Republicans appear to have won an equal number of the seats up for grabs, but Rs maintained an advantage in holdover senators.
During the 2011 session, there were 28 Republicans and 22 Democrats.
In the House, it looks like Democrats may pick up seven
five seats, making that chamber 40 38 Democratic seats to 60 62 Republicans instead of 32-68 like the 2011 session. This will help Governor-elect Steve Bullock sustain his 2013 vetoes. UPDATE: As of 8:30 pm Wed evening, Dems have gained seven MT house seats. The Billings Gazette has the story.
All of the results STILL aren’t in yet, so this could change and the Dems could pick up more seats.
Here are a couple of highlights. I’m sure there more more, please add them in the comments.
- Democrats Brad Hamlett and Greg Jergeson were successful in winning tough Senate races.
- Democrat Ed Leiser is leading Tim Baldwin.
- Tom Jacobson appears to have taken out TEA Partier Cleve Loney.
- Reilly Neill (D) looks to have taken out Dan Skattum in an ATP targeted race.
- And in Butte, Ryan Lynch took back Max Yate’s house seat for the Dems.
- Newcomer Jenny Eck was successfull in keeping her Helena house seat blue.
- Gary Marbut lost in Missoula.
- Janna Taylor and Dee Brown will be back in the Senate.
- Militia-linked Jennifer Fielder is in from Sanders County is now a state senator.
- Nicholas Schwaderer defeated Christine Johnson for the Superior house seat that was much in the news.
- Dog killer Roger Webb is leading Wanda Grinde in Billings for the Heights senate seat, but all the votes aren’t yet in.
- Warburton and Hanson will be back in the house. Though given the recent Frontline expose, she might be subject 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.
- Liz Bangerter from Helena and Joanne Blyton from Red Lodge will be back as well.
For those who believe that last year’s TEA Party Republican Legislature has inflicted enough trauma on Montana, consider that what happened in this week’s primary election spells a looming disaster for the next session. Out-of-state corporate groups worked in the primaries to push the already Bat Crap Crazy Montana legislature further rightward and over the cliff.
Mailers by third party, out-of-state, and corporate-funded groups succeeded in several races in getting more conservative candidates elected in GOP Primaries across the state. Their work was also designed to force a further rightward shift in the votes of all legislators in the next session. That’s because legislators who don’t currently vote hard right on every single bill now know that if they don’t toe the line next time, they are likely to face the same kind of attack ads and mailers we saw this year.
The attack mailers had an impact on several high profile races–putting in right-wingers over moderates in Laurel, Stevensville, Sidney, Polson, the Flathead, and who knows where else. Not only do these groups refuse to disclose how much their spending and who they are spending it on, they also refuse to disclose their donors. If their supporters were individual Montana citizens they would have nothing to hide and could just file as a Political Action Committee. But they don’t. They claim that their attack ads are “educational” rather than “electioneering” so that they don’t have to report who’s bankrolling them. Besides their ridiculous names, here’s what is known about the groups pushing the Montana Legislature further into the abyss.
“Taxpayers for Liberty”
An outside ultraconservative group calling itself “Taxpayers for Liberty” (linked to American Tradition Partnership) sent out mailers like those pasted below against Republican Rep. Carmine Mowbray and Republican Sen. Bruce Tutvedt. The group sent one mailer with a Washington DC return address. Another had the return address of the Helena UPS store. So, it’s unlikely a Montana group. There’s no record of “Taxpayers for Liberty” in the Montana Secretary of State’s database or with the Commissioner of Political Practices either. The group does not disclose its donors so the involvement of corporate or Koch brothers money can’t be ruled out. Even though they didn’t succeed in ousting Tutvedt, they still succeeded in sending a message that anyone who doesn’t vote hardline Bat Crap can expect the same treatment in 2014, thus resulting in a further right leaning legislature in January.
“Montana Family Foundation”
The massive amount of secret, corporate and out-of-state money at work in the Montana primaries allowed the groups that had worked in these races in the past to be more effective. Thanks to corporate money, special interest lobbying groups working in conservative races like the so-called Montana Family Foundation didn’t have to get involved in every primary this year. They could be more targeted, and more deadly. In fact, after a Montana judge that struck down the law requiring accuracy in campaign ads, the Montana Family Foundation called the court decision “a good thing”and a victory, the Flathead Beacon reported.
The group put out radio ads mailers claiming that Republican legislators Carmine Mowbray and Bruce Tutvedt:
“voted to allow fifth graders to be taught different sexual positions and variations and to allow “kindergarten students to be taught sexual detail without parental consent,”
Click here to listen to the radio ad: MTF1201_Tutvedt
To be sure, Montana Family Foundation lobbyist Jeff Laszloffy insisted he’d already planned to put the attacks out before the accuracy requirement was struck. Mowbray and Tutvedt both immediately denounced the attacks as the lies they are. (Which is somewhat ironic since they remained silent when their own party used the exact same attacks against Democrats in 2010–even after they were proven false.) The GOP has since removed the the press release on the sex ed attacks from their website.
You can tell the Family Foundation attack ads are designed to scare Republicans into making outrageous votes by looking at the groups “C-2″–a statement PACs are required to file with the Commissioner of Political Practices. The [PDF] form reads so explicitly it is a veritable “kill list” of Republicans who didn’t vote how lobbyist Laszloffy ordered. If you don’t vote like we tell you, this form says, you’re next.
Laszloffy attacked Tutvedt and Mowbray by distorting their voting records, but why he targeted Republican candidate Tami Christensen in Sidney is a puzzle. How Laszloffy came to the conclusion that she doesn’t meet his creepy purity test is unclear, since out of hundreds of legislative candidates, only one bothered to fill out Laszoffy’s questionnaire. One wonders if it was just because she’s a woman. Several local Republicans spoke out against the Family Foundation’s actions, including the Mayor and former State Legislator Sen. Donald Steinbeisser.
“American Traditions Partnership”
The American Tradition Partnership put out a press release this week claiming “ATP Sweeps State Legislative Elections,” and that they had won 12 of the 14 races in which they spent massive amounts of corporate money. Odd that they would put out this release after claiming in a Montana court that what they do is “issue education” rather than electioneering. The group boasted of radio ads and mailers.
The quotes from their release were particularly outrageous, given that ATP is funded by large out-of-state and multi-national corporations:
“This isn’t just a victory for ATP-Montana, it’s a victory for all ratepayers, property owners and businesspeople across the Treasure State,” said Doug Lair, State Coordinator for ATP-Montana. “Whether it’s against foreign corporations coming after our property rights or Gang Green’s hand-picked politicians bilking us through our utility bills, ATP-Montana will continue to fight for working people.”
“ATP is going to make sure there are consequences for regulation-happy politicians who want to use mom-and-pop business owners and employers as nothing more than punching bags and ATM machines,” added Lair, “and we won’t be shut up or shut down.”
ATP also threatened to buy the November elections, and threatened Steve Bullock in particular, saying that
“a pro-resource development agenda is sure to weigh heavily in the legislative elections in November, and particularly as party nominees Rick Hill and Steve Bullock face off in the race for governor.”
In legislative races, ATP sent out mailers like this one supporting Dee Brown in the Republican primary for the Whitefish/Columbia Falls State Senate Seat, SD 2. Previously they favored TEA Party poster boy Rep. Derek Skees in the HD4 general. This is the group that sued Montana to allow inaccurate campaign ads, keep election donations secret, and turn back MT’s 100 year old ban on corporate funding of elections. Attorney General Steve Bullock is defending Montana against the out-of-state group.
This demagoguing flier was mailed with heavy saturation in Whitefish, Columbia Falls, and who knows where else:
“Montana Growth Network”
This group worked in the Supreme Court race, but since Montana TEA Party Republican legislator Jason Priest is the groups treasurer I’m including it here. The Supreme Court race is non-partisan but the Helena IR reported that
“the Montana Growth Network, spent $19,000 with Richmond, Va.-based Desumo Strategies, which on its website lists as its one goal “Putting Republicans like you in office, at every level.”
By spending more on one saturation mailing then the conservative candidate they were backing had raised for her entire campaign, this corporate front group took the first step to buying the Supreme Court seat. Laurie McKinnon, who dog whistled at Lincoln Reagan dinners across Montana about “judicial activism,” “strict constructionist” and other conservative buzzwords was pushed past front-runner Elizabeth Best–in spite of reports of alleged Judicial Code of Ethics violations reported in Montana papers across the state. The allegations involve a fundraising letter sent out on McKinnon’s behalf, paid for by Laurie McKinnon’s campaign, from a sitting conservative Judge, Nels Swandal.
On Swandal’s political views, the Billings Gazette reported that:
State District Judge Nels Swandal, who’s running for an open seat on the Montana Supreme Court, sent some clear signals Saturday to Republicans that he is the more conservative candidate in the race, saying he didn’t have or want the endorsement of a prominent labor or conservation group.
Swandal, speaking at a forum at the Republican Party Platform Convention in Billings, said some of the 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.”
With groups like this pushing Montana further into nutjob territory, it’s easy to see why leaders like Steve Bullock, Brian Schweitzer and citizens from all over the state are fighting so hard to restore accuracy, transparency, and citizen input into Montana elections. What remains of the right to vote when the only messages most people get on issues of public policy are those put forward by large businesses, out-of-staters, and those with huge amounts of disposable cash?Tweet
The shadow group American Traditions Partnership is back working in Republican legislative races in Montana. American Traditions Partnership (ATP) is the group that sued to deregulate elections and turn back MT’s 100 year old ban on corporate funding of elections.
ATP, which doesn’t disclose its donors, sent out a mailer supporting Dee Brown in the Republican primary for the Whitefish/Columbian Falls State Senate Seat, SD 2. Previously they favored TEA Party poster boy Rep. Derek Skees in the HD4 general.
HB 198 was a Republican bill passed by a Republican controlled Legislature. This demagoguing flier was mailed with heavy saturation in Whitefish and Columbia Falls. Here’s the mailer:
The Center for Responsive Politics estimated that Republican secret money groups outspent Democrats across the U.S. last election cycle by a 7-1 margin. Here in Montana, ATP and other Republican-leaning groups spent an estimated $2-3 million attacking Democratic candidates and supporting TEA Party Republicans–but you can’t find the exact amount or who paid for it. This is just one more reason why the Citizens United decision is so bad. The Supreme Court opined that voters could easily go to the internet to find out who paid for the campaign ads. But GOP political operatives simply set up tax-exempt non-profit front groups like ATP to avoid having to disclose their donors. The front groups claimed that they were educating the public on issues rather than campaigning for candidates. Therefore, they argued, the disclosure wasn’t required.
Christ Matthews told Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer on Hardball recently that fewer than 50 wealthy individuals or corporations are spending the bulk of the money to influence elections this cycle. Schweitzer was on the program to talk about his support for a ballot initiative in Montana to overturn Citizens United.
ATP is the lead plaintiff in the legal challenge to Montana’s ban on corporate spending for candidates. The group touts their organization’s secrecy as a benefit of giving them money and have been under fire for corruption in Montana and other states. Montana TEA Party legislator Art Wittich (R-TEA Bozeman) is said to be the new local figurehead for the entity.