Creationists have been much in the news in Montana of late. Here’s the latest on Greg Gianforte, the billionaire tech mogul who apparently believes the earth is 4,300 years old. It’s also time for an update on Lawrence VanDyke, the creationist supreme court candidate who believes in “pray away the gay” conversion therapy.
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.
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.
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 Press reports today.
ATP even sent mailers impersonating unions– using the unions’ logos–to attack local candidates that the unions have actually endorsed.
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,”
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?
The Montana TEA Party jumped into the Montana Supreme Court race this week. A shadow group for TEA Party Republican Jason Priest has put out a mailer on behalf of right-wing Supreme Court candidate Laurie McKinnon.
Yet while Priest depicts McKinnon has the rule-of-law candidate, her biggest supporters–Priest and the TEA Party–are intent on forcing a law that would mean the exact opposite. I’m talking about nullification. Montana State Senator Jason Priest (R-Red Lodge) is one of the nullification movement’s leaders.
The concept of nullification was a key feature of the most extreme legislature in Montana history–nearly a dozen bills to declare federal authority “null and void” or unenforceable in Montana were introduced by Republicans during the 2011 session. However, the fact that the Supreme Court would declare the bills unconstitutional helped Democrats and moderate Republicans join forces to defeat the nullification bills time after time. Governor Schweitzer called the bills “anti-American.”
Besides seeking a nullification-friendly Supreme Court, TEA Party Republicans are also pushing a constitutional amendment to let state legislatures nullify federal laws. They’re calling the amendment the “Repeal Amendment”.
Jason Priest (R-Red Lodge) is listed among the dozen or so supporters of the amendment.
“Montanans are a liberty-minded people and I will proudly sponsor the Article V application for the Repeal Amendment in the Montana Legislature to send a clear, strong message to Washington that we are a sovereign state with Montana-made solutions to today’s challenges.”
Priest is the TEA Party Republican who made national news for posting comments to Facebook using “hateful, homophobic talk” to argue his dislike for paying taxes.
A right-wing candidate for Supreme Court appears to be blatantly disregarding the Judicial Code of Conduct by having a sitting judge solicit donations on her behalf.
Judge Nels Swandal sent out a mailing on his judicial letterhead soliciting campaign contributions for Laurie McKinnon, a hard right district judge running for Montana Supreme Court. This looks like a clear violation of the Judicial Code of Conduct, which states that sitting judges are prohibited from soliciting funds for a judicial candidate or collecting money on their behalf.
Here’s what Swandal writes (click to enlarge, or view the whole letter here):
The entire Swandal letter (Page 1 and 2) and the exact language of the Judicial Code of Conduct (Page 3) can be viewed here.
Swandal is no stranger to shady dealings with right-wingers. He’s the guy who had to recuse himself from the Rehberg/Barkus DUI boating trial in which one of Rehberg’s staff suffered a severe head injury after neither Congressman Rehberg nor former state Senator Greg Barkus bothered to designate a sober driver. Swandal had to recuse himself because he had a record of supporting Barkus and other Republicans. He even hired Rehberg’s former chief of staff after the brain injury to run his campaign against Beth Baker for Supreme Court. Swandal lost but remains a district judge in Livingston.