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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.

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.


More Coggin Poppycock

Here’s the latest attack ad from the oil and gas industry attacking EPA and the Clean Water Act. The letter was published in The Hill blog yesterday and was, of course, signed by our old friend, and Rick Berman employee, Will Coggin.

Richard “Rick” Berman is a longtime Washington, D.C. public relations specialist whose lobbying and consulting firm, Berman and Company, Inc., advocates for special interests and powerful industries. Berman and Co. wages deceptive campaigns against industry foes including labor unions; public-health advocates; and consumer, safety, animal welfare, and environmental groups.

nyc1Coggin is variously identified as “director of research at the Environmental Policy Alliance“, or “director of research at the Center for Consumer Freedom”, depending on which targets his corporate overlords want attacked this week. Both groups spend their millions attacking environmental groups and consumer advocate groups such as the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and Trout Unlimited, the EPA, Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Food & Water Watch, PETA and Mothers Against Drunk Driving and even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Center for Science in the Public Interest through an extensive network of tacky websites, billboards, print ads and recently, letters to many local newspapers across the western U.S attacking the EPA and opponents of the transfer of public lands to private control.

“Berman makes his money as a corporate hired gun, setting up front groups to denigrate public interest organizations that threaten his clients’ bottom lines,” Melanie Sloan, executive director for the nonprofit watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington told HuffPost. “I’m not surprised he’s attacking groups and agencies focused on the environment, given the deep pockets of those interested in paying to stop climate change legislation and regulation.”

If the campaign runs true to form, the Hill letter will soon show up in various newspapers across Montana. Their aim is not to elucidate, but to confuse and confound through a blizzard of deception.

“Our offensive strategy is to shoot the messenger,” admits [Rick] Berman. “Given the activists’ plans to alarm beyond all reason, we’ve got to attack their credibility as spokespersons.” The Center has so aggressively defended junk food, a USA Today editorial said it should rename its site called ConsumerFreedom.com to FatforProfit.com

UPDATE 05/19/2015: Reply from TRCP“These attacks are disingenuous and blatantly hypocritical. The folks behind the Environmental Policy Alliance are lobbyists and PR spinmeisters who are paid by industry to roll back conservation, yet they presume to tell Beltway readers who the real sportsmen are and what we should support.”

Black Decoys

blackdecoyThe latest epistle floating around from the corporate brain trust aimed at stealing your public lands comes from the Property and Environment Research Center out of Bozeman.

We talked about PERC and its mission earlier. This is a deceptive front group doing phony research for Exxon, the Koch brothers and other resource extractors aimed at convincing the public that we are too stupid to manage our own lands and market forces can do a better job. PERC is closely aligned with the American Lands Council and other corporate-funded 501(c) groups. Along with PR guru and corporate lobbyist Richard Berman and his plethora of front groups like the Green Decoys website and the Environmental Policy Alliance, they have initiated a hard push in the media using seemingly rational reasoning to advance the idea of transfer of public lands to private hands. Many dispatches from the Berman-created Green Decoys front group attacking various conservation groups and signed by “senior research analyst” Will Coggin have raised hackles across western states.

In this latest poison-pen letter, PERC tries to make the somewhat oxymoronic point that restricting access and concentrating use on fewer and fewer public parcels will result in a greater appreciation of our common resources and better stewardship of the few places that we have left. Only through the use of proper “access management”, by which they mean access only for the privileged few and “private land managers”, can we begin to appreciate and properly manage our public resources.

PERC continues earlier Will Coggin/ALC attacks on conservation organizations such as Trout Unlimited and on the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) for promoting increased public access and appreciation of our wild places and thereby limiting the role of timber, mining and drilling companies.  By citing examples of egregious resource damage due to poor management or improper use, they aspire to prove that private management and/or private ownership is the only way to save our wildland resources from decimation and over-use by greedy public sportsmen. Don’t be fooled, their ultimate goal is to shut off all public access to our communal treasures to allow acquisition and rape by their affluent backers.

Access or Profit?

Think the State of Montana is better at managing public lands than the Federal Government? Think again.

The National Wildlife Federation just released a report titled How Could Your Recreational Access Change if Federal Lands were Controlled by the States? The report details differences between state and federal management of public lands.


Spring Prairie then

During the 1890s, Spring Prairie north of Kalispell was a favored stop for wagon and mule trains traveling the Fort Steele Trail. This important trail connected the Mullan Road near Missoula with the Tobacco Plains and the prosperous mining districts in British Columbia. Spring Prairie offered a large spring of clear water as well as plentiful grazing and timber and was an important resting point before the caravans entered the arduous, heavily timbered part of the northward journey.

At least there is plenty of public access

Spring Prairie today: At least there is plenty of public access

By the Enabling Act of 1889, Montana was to be given sections 16 and 36 of every township within it’s borders when it became a state. The lands were to be held in trust by the state for public education. Spring Prairie was part of that bequest. Montana law requires state trust lands to be administrated to “secure the largest measure of legitimate and reasonable advantage to the state.” Today, due to this mandate to maximize revenues from state lands, Spring Prairie is mostly paved over with plans afoot in the near future to fill and pave the spring itself. Phase 4 of the development will put just over $100,000 a year into state coffers.

At statehood, Montana was given 5.9 million acres of school trust land. After selling off around 800,000 acres, today the State Land Board administers about 5.1 million acres. Those lands include 4.7 million acres under 9,000 agreements for crop and range leases throughout the state, 5,301 oil and gas, metalliferous and non-metalliferous mineral, coal, and sand and gravel leases, and 39 coal leases. The state sold 61.4 million board feet of timber from 780,000 acres of state lands in 2014. Since the state owns our riverbeds, Montana also leases 19,000 acres of riverbed and island tracts for oil and gas development. In 2014, Montana sold 4,093 acres of state trust land.

Until 1991, most of the leased lands were accessible only at the whim of the lessor. Today you can buy a State Lands Permit to access most state lands. About 1.3 million acres of Montana’s public lands are “landlocked” that is, they are surrounded by private parcels and not accessible by the public. One example is the section surrounded by Ted Turner’s 22,000-acre Bar None Ranch. Turner Enterprises leases 16,600 acres of public land in Montana. The area is technically open to public access, but the reality is there is no access across the private land unless you pay Mr. Turner’s Montana Hunting Company $14,000 to hunt on the “public” land.

If Montana were to take possession of all the BLM and U.S. Forest Service land in the state, they would gain about 25 million acres on which to maximize profits for the state. In 1999, the Montana State Legislature passed a law exempting many DNRC activities from MEPA compliance for “lease renewals” and certain other activities associated with trust lands management. If these lands were managed like state trust lands, much of your current access would be lost, or restricted. Much of the new land would necessarily have to be sold to the highest bidder to maximize profit for the state. You would have to buy a permit for lands you can now access for free. Some lands you can now access would be leased for commercial activities which would impair public access and impact wildland values. Virtually every decision on management of public lands would be based on what is best for the state revenue stream and not on what is best for the physical streams, forests and recreational values.

Spring Prairie has become an asphalt wasteland under state management to provide a modest boost to state coffers. Little oversight from overworked and understaffed state agencies would result in much the same fate for many currently open public lands in Montana if the current iteration of the Sagebrush Rebellion is allowed to move forward with its profit-fueled ,corporate vision for public lands in our state.