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Rewriting the Code of the West

Tom Mix

In Montana we live by a Western ethic.  Some call these rules the Code of the West or Cowboy Ethic. We have been bound by these rules just as surely as if they were written into law. The unwritten code was extolled by by Zane Grey in 1934 and was strictly followed by the likes of Tom Mix, John Wayne and Gene Autry. The unwritten code includes;

  • Take pride in your work
  • Always finish what you start
  • Do what has to be done
  • Ride for the brand
  • Remember that some things aren’t for sale
  • Know where to draw the line

There are now those who would amend what is allowed by the Code. They would add rules like;

  • Greed is good
  • Money is power
  • Money is speech
  • Screw you, I got mine
  • Not only snakes hide under rocks
  • Damn the environment
  • Lie about your friends and neighbors only from hiding

These new rules are fast becoming part of our new western tradition. It is now alright for folks like Western Tradition Partnership to flaunt our laws, slander our people, attack our neighbors and buy our elections, all while remaining anonymous. Cowards like these will use foreign money to corrupt Montana elections, forge campaign reports and maliciously attack candidates without revealing who they work for or where their tainted money originates.

State commissioner of political practices, Dennis Unsworth says that WTP has clearly broken Montana election laws and should pay civil penalties, reveal their donors and stand for investigation. Unsworth’s ruling based on a flyer sent to voters by WTP in a Billings state senate race claims that the organization unlawfully acted as a political committee without revealing financial or expenditure information.

This mailing clearly attacks Brad Hamlett, a candidate for the legislature, and implicitly calls on people not to vote for Hamlett with its exhortation “Don’t be Fooled” – i.e. “Don’t be fooled into voting for Brad Hamlett.” Since Western Tradition Partnership is apparently sponsoring this mailing, it has violated Montana law by not filing as a political committee and by not filing campaign finance reports as required by law.

Of course, the response from WTP was to be expected. They turned around and sued the state of Montana alleging that having to operate under ethical campaign laws enacted by our own legislators places “onerous and constitutional burdens upon (those) engaged in political speech.” While they admit that they are in fact, engaged in “political speech”, they see our laws as merely a burden to their corporate agenda. Having previously sued the state under the Citizens United ruling, WTP got our 100-year old ban on corporate political donations overturned in district court in October, WTP now feels that it should not be hampered by any campaign rules whatsoever. The law is very clear that if the aim of their mailings was “for the purpose of influencing the results of an election” (and they clearly were), then it is regulated activity. Rather than protest the ruling, WTP would just have all Montana law overturned.

WTP even asked the judge to forbid Unsworth from publicly distributing his Oct. 21 decision against the group, saying it is causing the group “irreparable harm to its mission and reputation” with “unsubstantiated allegations” and by revealing its internal communications and fundraising strategies.

“Don’t be fooled”, Remember that some things aren’t for sale. These people aren’t about fairness. They are pursuing a strictly corporate agenda that includes forcing Montana to allow them to spew whatever lies they want to about their adversaries and spend unlimited money to control our state without letting you know who is doing the talking. These are the masked guys in black hats who like to do their shooting from behind a rock while your back is turned. This is not the western tradition that I grew up with and it is certainly not based in any ethic that Zane Grey would recognize.


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