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Wake Up Call

startingthefightIt wasn’t the Russians. It wasn’t racism. It wasn’t Wikileaks, Fox News, Corporate Media or the FBI. We did it to ourselves.

My Dad’s Democratic Party was a party of inclusion. It was the party of steelworkers, farmers, waitresses, cab drivers and carpenters. The Democratic Party of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is a white collar party of exurban commuters and stock traders. Many of the folks that elected Donald Trump were abandoned by the Democratic Party. Their party abandoned worker’s rights, fair wages, unions, pensions and the social safety net in favor of financial controls, closing tax loopholes and free trade. Not that those things are not important, but if you are living paycheck to paycheck and can’t afford to send your kids to college, the travails of corporate malfeasance are not an overarching priority. Working folks had nowhere to turn except to the planet of empty promises and pie-in-the-sky. It is my ardent wish that Democrats have learned from this experience, but that may well be pie-in-the-sky too. We can’t blame outside forces for Donald Trump. We need to look inward and find where we have failed.

Robert Reich got it right;

Recent economic indicators may be up, but those indicators don’t reflect the insecurity most Americans continue to feel, nor the seeming arbitrariness and unfairness they experience. Nor do the major indicators show the linkages many Americans see between wealth and power, stagnant or declining real wages, soaring CEO pay, and the undermining of democracy by big money.

Glen Greenwald has been following the backlash vote;

For many years, the U.S. — like the U.K. and other Western nations — has embarked on a course that virtually guaranteed a collapse of elite authority and internal implosion. From the invasion of Iraq to the 2008 financial crisis to the all-consuming framework of prisons and endless wars, societal benefits have been directed almost exclusively to the very elite institutions most responsible for failure at the expense of everyone else.

Everyone recognizes the need for change. There are calls for a new party, a new politics, a new coalition. “We need a people’s party — a party capable of organizing and mobilizing Americans in opposition to Donald Trump’s Republican Party, which is about to take over all three branches of the US government. We need a New Democratic Party that will fight against intolerance and widening inequality.” says Reich. We had that party, it used to be the Democratic Party, but we have lost our way.

Here is what we need to understand:  a hell of a lot of people are in pain. Under neoliberal policies of deregulation, privatisation, austerity and corporate trade, their living standards have declined precipitously. They have lost jobs. They have lost pensions. They have lost much of the safety net that used to make these losses less frightening. They see a future for their kids even worse than their precarious present.

Today Bernie Sanders is the most important person in the Democratic Party and even he is not a Democrat. It’s time to focus people. We need to bring back the party we once had, the party that recognizes that we have forgotten the people part of the equation.

Fair, transparent, and accessible elections?

Just an update on Gianforte and his stream access lawsuit. On Monday, the Gianforte campaign sent out a Cease and Desist letter to every Montana broadcasting station calling on all stations to stop airing a commercial by the Democratic Governors PAC regarding the 2009 lawsuit, claiming that the ads are “false and misleading”  According to the letter, stations “should refuse to air it or immediately refuse to continue airing it.”

Claims that the ad is defamatory to Mr. Gianforte are dubious at best but, why not take a shot? What I found most telling about the letter was not the content, but the sender. The letter was sent out by the counsel to the Gianforte for Montana campaign James Bopp of Terre Haute, Indiana. Yes, this is the same James Bopp that was the brains behind the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision that removed all limits on campaign donations for rich folks and corporations. Bopp was also instrumental in nearly destroying campaign finance oversight in Montana.

The Citizens United ruling has resulted in near-complete control of our elections by corporations and wealthy patrons who are able to hide behind the anonymity of a myriad of Dark Money organizations;

In 1980, the top 0.01 percent of the population contributed 15 percent of total political contributions. But between 2010 and 2014, just 195 donors—the top .0013 percent of the population—funded 60 percent of super PACs, which, as (supposedly) independent corporations are exempt from both donation limits and spending limits, thanks to the progeny of Citizens United.

Bopp was also instrumental, as a member of the 2016 Republican Platform Committee in striking all language relating to LGBT rights from the GOP platform. Bopp, and by extension his client Gianforte, feel that control of our elections by wealthy corporate interests is just like a bunch of regular folks, like you and me, banding together and spending millions of dollars to influence our elections.

Yes, this is the same Greg Gianforte who thinks the “Jersey Gianforte” label is defamatory because he’s a real Montanan and has vowed to not accept special-interest money. And yet he is more than willing to hire and accept out-of-state help from a radical right-wing millionaire lawyer from Indiana who wants to tear down our electoral process and wants to influence elections in Montana.

According to the nonpartisan grassroots organization Common Cause;

“James Bopp is the point man for conservative wealthy interests whose goal is to dismantle the laws and regulations we have in place to stop the buying of Congress and other elected officials,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. “America has Bopp and company to thank for the flood of secret corporate dollars flowing into the mid-term elections drowning out the voices of ordinary voters. Wall Street, Big Oil and the insurance industry will all seek a return on their investments as soon as the campaigns are over, and the public will pay the price.”

Gianforte has said;  “I will continue to fight for fair, transparent, and accessible elections because I, along with all Montanans, believe that our elections should be decided by ‘we the people’ — not by a small number of wealthy people who seek to hide their money and motivations,” And yet once again, the Gianforte campaign seeks to demonstrate that those with whom you associate speak reams about your true objectives.

Defining “Public”

“I would oppose any plan that jeopardizes keeping public lands public.”, Greg Gianforte – March 28, 2016

Mr. Gianforte has recently become an advocate for public lands although his definition of “public” and “access” is still somewhat hazy.  In defending his lawsuit against the State of Montana in 2009 over public access along the East Gallatin River his lawyers asked for a decree to “extinguish” the “improperly conveyed Easement and any other claimed easement rights claimed by FWP and/or the public”. So, just how strong is Gianforte’s support of public access? Let’s examine statements by a few of the organizations that Mr. Gianforte supports, through his tax-deductible family foundation.

Heritage Foundation

States have a proven record of managing resources, and already have the regulatory structures in place to do so on federal lands within their boundaries as well. Not only would new management multiply benefits for all Americans, it would also encourage better care of the environment and natural resources by putting them in the hands of people who have an immediate stake in wise management.

Americans For Prosperity

Most Americans acknowledge that the federal government has a role to play in managing our nation’s vast landmass. National parks, military bases, and interstate highways are all federal lands that are understandably under Washington’s control. However, every acre of land that does not fulfill these basic functions of government is an acre that could have been better used by a private citizen or company. Unfortunately, this opportunity cost applies to the vast majority of federal lands that sit idle as an untapped frontier for prosperity.

Property and Environment Research Center

There is nothing inherently national in scope about many federal land management responsibilities. Timber harvesting, livestock grazing, and energy development are carried out responsibly and profitably on state trust lands. Our results provide further evidence to question whether these activities should remain federal responsibilities. States could likely earn much greater revenues managing these activities, but transfer proponents must consider how management practices would have to change in order to generate those revenues under state control.

Importantly, each of these groups is primarily funded by the extreme Libertarian, oil baron Koch Brothers and their wealthy donor network who make no bones about coveting private control of public lands. Gianforte gave the keynote speech at the Koch-backed, AFP “Passion to Profit” workshop in 2015.

2016 Republican Platform

Experience has shown that, in caring for the land and water, private ownership has been our best guarantee of conscientious stewardship, while the worst instances of environmental degradation have occurred under government control.

Clearly, for such a champion of public lands, Mr. Gianforte supports, and seeks the support, of many organizations and individuals who do not share his enthusiasm for keeping public lands and access in public hands. Experience decrees that what you say matters, but who you fund, who you listen to and who you associate with may be more telling.

Furthering the common good and general welfare

Problem: How to anonymously infuse millions of dollars into a political campaign to bias the outcome.

Answer: Social Welfare.

Prior to the Citizens United and the lesser-known SpeechNow rulings in 2010, individuals, corporations and unions were limited to donations of $5,000 or less to groups that ran “independent” political campaigns. Following those rulings, all caps on donations were removed supposedly to preserve the right of free speech. The rulings also upheld the notion that groups running Independent Expenditure political campaigns need not register as a political committee or follow PAC reporting requirements and are not required to reveal the identity of their donors if they register as a tax deductible organization.

Social Welfare organizations are registered under the Internal Revenue Code as tax-exempt 501(c)(4) organizations. These organizations must “operate primarily to further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community”. That does not mean however, that they cannot operate in the partisan political arena. A “501(c)(4) social welfare organization may engage in some political activities, so long as that is not its primary activity.”

spendingTherefore, a “social welfare” organization may fund and distribute attack ads, fund opposition research, mail issue propaganda, or organize other political activities as long as it is not their “primary activity”. How that works in the real world is that a social welfare organization (think Americans for Prosperity) creates a vast and nearly untraceable, web of social welfare organizations that can raise millions of tax deductible dollars anonymously from wealthy individuals and corporations interested influencing a particular issue, or candidate. They are then allowed to spend up to 49% of that money on a publicity campaign to influence the outcome of legislation or an election all the while protecting the First Amendment rights of their donors by not revealing where the money came from and simultaneously claiming that they are doing “social welfare” work for the good of the electorate.

But, what happens to the other 51% that cannot be legally spent on political activity? Simple, you donate that money to other social welfare organizations who hold the same views. Those organizations, sometimes sharing the same address and/or phone number with the donor, are then free to use up to 49% of the remaining money for political advocacy on the same issue or candidate. After those organizations have spent their 49% they pass along the remaining money to other organizations ad infinitum until all of the tax deductible millions in anonymous money is spent to further the aims of the donor network and this is all done allegedly “to further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community” whether they like it or not.

Americans for Prosperity, founded and directed by the oil-rich Koch brothers, has spent more than $2 million so far in this elections cycle much of it on “social welfare”, and intends to spend more than $100 million to further the aims of its semi-anonymous wealthy donors. Both Steve Daines (89%) and Ryan Zinke (82%) have received high lifetime ratings from Americans for Prosperity while Jon Tester got a paltry rating of only 11%. While AFP was not allowed to actively campaign against Jon Tester, in 2012 “AFP deployed a traveling call center for what it dubbed the “Tester truth tour.” At parking lot rallies across the state, AFP would inform audiences about Tester’s voting record.”  AFP’s Montana state director was formerly a staffer for Steve Daines.  Greg Gianforte was the keynote speaker at the Americans for Prosperity Foundation’s “Passion to Profit” workshop in Bozeman last year and his family trust donates to AFP. That’s not active campaigning, it’s Social Welfare work.

Darkness Descends on Montana

So, we last reported on the dark money group, Protect America’s Consumers and their attack on the nonpartisan Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The “PAC” PAC is, of course, not the only shady political action committee operating in Montana under the cover of darkness. They like to call themselves “social welfare” organizations although no one in Montana can afford to travel in their social circles. Their money comes mainly from outside the state and they hope to influence your vote or your laws in ways that benefit their wealthy and anonymous donors.

Another shadowy group, “Montanans for Community Development” has taken to the courts to try, for the third time, to strike down Montana’s rules governing campaign finance that were passed by both parties in the Legislature on a vote of 51-48. The Montana Disclose Act effectively blocks the flood of “dark money” spending by nonprofit groups that do not disclose their donors and that of course pissed off the anonymous funders even though;

The Supreme Court has confirmed that disclosure requirements do not block free speech, and that the state has an interest in providing its citizens with information about the groups and individuals who spend money in elections, Assistant Attorney General Matthew Cochenour wrote.

There is no evidence supporting the allegations MCD makes against Motl.

Other dark money organizations, like the  Montana Family Foundation and the Montana Policy Institute, funded in part by current Republican gubernatorial candidate, Greg Gianforte fought hard to kill the Disclose Act. “Jeff Laszloffy, president of the Montana Family Foundation, published a letter that said if the bill “were to become law, Montana houses of worship would be at risk of having to publicize every single tithe they receive.” He said that he would challenge the law in federal court if it is passed.”

The Montana Growth Network, funded by out-of-state billionaires and corporations, thinks Montanan’s aren’t smart enough to pick the members of our Supreme Court so, they spent $900,000 to assure that their friendly candidate would be elected in 2012. Three years later, an investigation by Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices found that the Montana Growth Network had violated Montana campaign laws. Turns out that the secret major funders of the group just coincidentally had business before the high court. Billionaires James Cox Kennedy and Charles Schwab are both involved in trying to privatize public waters in Montana and strike down the Montana stream access law. John Gibson, president of the Public Land/Water Access Association said;

“If they can’t win in court, they’ll change the court, they’ll change the justices that make the decisions, and that’s ongoing.”

The situation looks fairly clear to Bruce Farling, executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited, a conservation group that has worked to defend the stream access law against these challenges.

“Those guys wrote big checks to this outfit [Montana Growth Network] to write big checks to [support] McKinnon, and I can’t think of any other reason they would be interested in that race other than the fact that their stream access cases have shown up before the Montana Supreme Court,”.

Rep. Art Wittich, R-Bozeman, was found guilty of colluding with the National Right to Work Committee (along with 14 other Republican candidates). He took $19,599 worth of in-kind contributions that he failed to disclose to win his seat in the legislature.

Wittich’s case is the first in the Right to Work investigation to go to trial, and it will likely set a precedent for other open cases against candidates and the nonprofit corporations, which are registered as social welfare organizations.

A 2012 documentary Big Sky, Big Money on PBS’ Frontline won kudos and awards for documenting the influence of dark money operations in Montana following the Supreme Court, Citizen’s United decision. Has anything changed? These corrupt groups continue to have undue influence on our elections, local and statewide, as well as who we seat on our high court. When we out one group, the money just shifts to another with a patriotic-sounding name that, always includes terms like “Freedom”, “American”, “Patriot”, “Liberty”, “Montana”, or “Family” in it’s title. As one group dies, or is banned, the next just steps up to assume the same mantle. Lawsuits, or even new laws can’t completely stop billionaires who seek advantage in controlling our Montana government.

Consumers vs. The Weasels

cfpbIf you watch the teevee in Montana you’ve seen the ads. Another shady right-wing AstroTurf group has been running ’em for a couple of months now attacking the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) with outright lies, shady prevarications and fraudulent rhetoric, while implying that Senator Jon Tester plays a role in supporting this dastardly evil empire.

The CFPB was created in 2010 as part of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in response to the “Great Recession” of 2008 with an admittedly malevolent mission “to provide a single point of accountability for enforcing federal consumer financial laws and protecting consumers in the financial marketplace.”

We aim to make consumer financial markets work for consumers, responsible providers, and the economy as a whole. We protect consumers from unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices and take action against companies that break the law. We arm people with the information and stepstools that they need to make smart financial decisions.

Of course the K-Street elite can’t bear the fact that there could actually be a semi-federal agency that stands up for the humble consumer against the righteous power of omnipotent corporations. Knowing that they would be justifiably reviled if they acted blatantly against protection of lowly consumers using their own names, a bunch of financial geniuses created another dark money organization allowing them to never have to reveal their secret identities or take responsibility for their actions.

The CFPB has done such despicable things as requiring mortgage lenders to reveal the full consequences of driving borrowers to high-interest loans, forced mortgage lenders to verify a borrowers’ ability to repay, providing borrowers with a low-cost loan counselor, allowing folks scammed by credit card companies get refunds, and much more. Of course, this devious pro-profit group was also driven to distraction by the fact that the CFPB was the shifty step child of Senator Elizabeth Warren who has been a thorn in the side of the financial industry for decades.

Following the devious and dark deceptions of the Protect America’s Consumers sham group (a group that seems to have no members) is of course a tricky row to hoe, but none of the claims made against the CFPB appear to hold yellow water. The smartly produced video advertisements also serve to raise doubts about the veracity of Democratic Senators (including Tester) that the political nonprofit group targets, and come, coincidentally during a national election cycle.

This and other dark money groups are shielded from disclosure of their members, their activities, or funding. If you prefer that your facts arise from a dark hole in the ground with no attribution, facts or accuracy, please send large amounts of money.

 

Montana Values and East Coast Lawyers

So, it comes to this. Opponents of the CSKT water compact have hired a phalanx of Ivy League lawyers from New York City to explain to the naïve electorate of the Treasure State how we have been duped by an international conspiracy orchestrated by the U.N. with the sole purpose of stealing the waters of the Jocko River for some, as yet unrevealed, but surely evil, socialistic purpose.

It is indeed unfortunate that the citizens of Montana are too ignorant to govern themselves and require the enlightened guidance of a throng of noble East Coast attorneys. Even in creating this “hastily enacted” compact we took more than five years and two sessions of the Montana Legislature to complete the task. In our mindless attempt at passing our own laws, we ignored the obvious fact that “the agreement is an instance of Obama attempting to implement socialist policies” in rural Montana. Fortunately, this highly-paid cadre of elite barristers from the Empire State is prepared to guide us from our quagmire of stupidity and clarify the corrupt connections between Montana lawmakers and the international Socialistic cabal led by the Kenyan usurper in the White House.

We can all rest assured that when these paragons of the legal profession bundle up all the cash they can comfortably carry and return to their citadel of knowledge in New York, Montana will surely be a better place.