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.