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
Montana’s 2012 elections will go down in history–but not in a good way. Rather, this cycle will be remembered for corruption, lies, deceptive ads, illegal donations, apparent illegal coordination with third-party groups, and secret corporate money.
The season was kicked off with TEA Party Republican legislator Jason Priest secretive “Montana Growth Network” buying the Supreme Court race for TEA Party judge Laurie McKinnon. Priest’s shadow group spent more on one saturation mailing then the conservative candidate he was backing had raised for her entire campaign.
McKinnon, who dog whistled at Lincoln Reagan dinners across Montana about “judicial activism,” “strict constructionist” and other conservative buzzwords, was able to defeat the leading candidate Elizabeth Best in the primary–in spite of reports of alleged Judicial Code of Ethics violations reported in Montana papers across the state. Priest’s “Montana Growth Network” is thought to be one of the American Traditions Partnership’s many spinoffs.
Indeed no group has been more insidious than American Traditions Partnership in corrupting Montana’s elections. ATP’s launched it’s biggest attack on Steve Bullock. It mailed a fake newspaper to hundreds of thousands of Montanans depicting Bullock in a line-up of sex offenders.
In a brilliant piece of investigative journalism, the PBS show Frontline has revealed the seedy underbelly of secret money in Montana’s elections, with a full-hour expose of Montana politics and this secretive right-wing group. 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, the Associated Pressreports today.
ATP wasn’t alone, unknown corporate groups dumped half a million dollars in illegal into Rick Hill’s campaign coffers, forcing a judge to issue a restraining order against Hill to stop him from spending the illegal cash. The Montana GOP claims the donation came from the Republican Governor’s Association, but shortly before the RGA sent the dough to the Montana GOP, that an entity calling itself the ”Montana Law Foundation” sent $200,000 the the RGA. There’s only one reason that a fake Montana group would donate to the RGA instead of the Montana Republican Party and that’s to hide the donation’s source.
Tim Fox, the Montana Republican lunatic who is running for attorney general despite having never done anything other than defend drunk drivers and call for rape victims to have the rapists’ babies, got some national Republican donors to buy $700,000 of TV advertising on his behalf. Fox Fox refused to reveal his true extremists beliefs. Instead, he hid behind the hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising that his corporate bosses– including the Koch brothers, the insurance industry and the cigarette companies put up to hide the truth.
Montana’s U.S. Senate race has also drawn a deluge of dark money aimed at defeating Jon Tester and replacing him with scandal-plagued extremist Dennis Rehberg.
Tonight, Montana citizens will find out whether ATP and groups like it will completely own our state and federal governments–using lies, deception, illegal activity and corporate money to install their candidates into office, from a P.O. Box, without ever revealing who their donors really are.
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,”
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.
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.”
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.
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
A Flathead area property owner is taking on Republican Rep. Janna Taylor for paying less than 20 bucks in property tax for lakeshore property and raking in over a million dollars in federal farm subsidies. In fact, the TEA Partier is the number one recipient of government farm subsidy cash in the Montana Legislature.
Anne Marie Semsak, in a well-written letter in the Missoulian this week writes:
It is a matter of public record that Rep. Janna Taylor owns 15 acres, including 660 feet of Flathead lakeshore property, near Rollins, for which she pays $19 annual property tax, plus a little over $2,000 for the improvements on the land – house, dock and outbuildings. Her taxable value is $400,031.
We own 4.87 acres with 180 feet of lakeshore with two older houses and a mobile home. Our taxable value is $1,064,136.
Taylor is a state legislator, entrusted to fairly serve her district. She lists “rancher” on her biographical information, but their ranch is in central Montana, far from this legislative district. I have not seen “cherry farmer” on any of her information. One could conclude that she is taking advantage of the agricultural exemption, and I find this disturbing.
Taylor made waves in the Montana legislature for her hypocrisy in government spending and her statement that the death penalty is needed to address prisoner spitballs. Taylor is running for the Montana Senate against incumbent Sen. Carmine Mowbray (R-Polson) in the June 5 primary elections.
Tim Baldwin (R-Crackpot) Running in Derek Skees’ footsteps for Whitefish House Seat
Whitefish residents thrilled to find TEA Party Republican Derek Skees aiming for statewide office and abandoning his legislative seat are re-thinking their good cheer. That’s because TEA Party Republican Tim Baldwin, son of Chuck Baldwin, is running in his place. Baldwin is basically Skees with a law degree + uber-religious conservative + has dad with ties to the white supremacy movement–a truly scary thing.
In the video below, Baldwin discusses his theory on why true Christians don’t need to follow the law if they decide they don’t like the evil government:
Elizabeth Best Campaign Ad Up
Montana candidate for Supreme Court Elizabeth Best has a campaign ad up. Here it is: Tweet
In the Republican primary for governor, six male candidates have now chosen six male running mates. It is a male-only field.
And it gets worse: Of the twenty or so Republicans who have announced a run for statewide office, only one is a woman.
At a minimum, you’d think at least one of the idiots running for governor would sense some political value in choosing a woman. Yet none did. Perhaps this is why the GOP has been relegated to a fringe sect in Montana. Perhaps this is why an ignoramus like Dennis Rehberg is now the Republicans’ lone statewide office holder, literally the last man standing.
Fortunately, Democrats give no quarter to such sexism.
For starters, Pam Bucy, an accomplished lawyer and deputy attorney general, is poised to become our next Attorney General. She would become Montana’s first female Attorney General and one of only six in America, and only the second woman in Montana’s 122 year history to occupy a top elected office in Montana (the others are Jeanette Rankin and Judy Martz).
And don’t forget Monica Lindeen, Denise Juneau and Linda McCulloch, who are sitting in the three other executive positions right now, as well as Carol Williams who was Senate President in 2009 and now Senate Majority leader. She is the only woman ever to hold the top legislative post in either house.
And the Democratic nominee for Congress will also be a female, either Kim Gillan, Franke Wilmer or Diane Smith. In the past, our nominees for Congress have included Tracy Velasquez, Lindeen, and Nancy Keenan for Congress, and Dorothy Bradley ran for Governor. On the Public Service Commission, we have Gail Gutsche and may also soon have Lynda Moss.
The only females of the species playing a role in the GOP gubernatorial primary are the numerous ex-wives and mistresses of a few of the candidates. I guess that’s better than nothing.Tweet