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Big Sky, Big Coincidence?

I don’t mean to be the only paranoid reporter in Montana, but… It seems that the office of the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices was burglarized on Wednesday night. That would be a fairly unusual story in and of itself were it not for the fact that the PBS documentary series Frontline ran a story on Tuesday evening titled Big Sky, Big Money about apparent corrupt political practices in Montana elections. The story was based on documents found in Colorado that apparently came from a stolen car there. The documents may, or may not, belong to the shadowy 501(c)(4) tax-exempt political organization, American Tradition Partnership and those documents are now being held by the Commissioner of Political Practices in Helena.

The documents, which have been claimed by ATP consultant Christian LeFer, show that the organization may have been directly coordinating with political campaigns in Montana in direct violation of their non-profit status and conflicting with what they told the IRS.

…when WTP [ATP was formerly “Western Tradition Partnership”] applied for recognition of its tax-exempt status, the group also told the IRS under penalty of perjury that it would not directly or indirectly attempt to influence elections. Yet even before its application, the group sponsored mailers that criticized politicians in the 2008 Republican primary.

The documents show that ATP may indeed have been illegally colluding, coordinating or actually running political campaigns in Montana. LeFer has claimed the documents, saying that they were stolen along with his wife’s car in 2010.

On Monday, LeFer also confirmed the documents found in a meth house were stolen from his wife’s car and belonged to him and his wife, Allison. The documents included material from outside groups and candidates, and communications between LeFer and candidates. There were surveys of candidates by outside groups and drafts and final copies of mailers marked as being paid for by the campaigns.

As part of the Tuesday night Frontline report, PBS reported that the documents, which may become part of a criminal prosecution, were stored in the basement of the Montana Office of Political Practices. Now, of course there is no evidence at this time that the burglary Wednesday was related in any way to the Frontline story on Tuesday, but it is all rather a bit too coincidental. The Commissioner of Political Practices reported that the ATP documents had been stored in a “secure location” and are not missing. There is no evidence at this time whether anything else was stolen.

If you did not see the Frontline documentary “Big Sky, Big Money” you can watch it from the Montana PBS website or the Fronline site. It’s something you really need to see if you live in Montana and have an interest in the influence of money on our local and state politics.

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