Friday, December 21, 2012

National Journal: Baucus losing top staffers in ‘exodus’

faldc5-60h5610fv9tdnb3t5ai_originalAccording to the National Journal’s “Influence Alley” blog, Montana U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, 70, is “losing his top tax staffers by the day.”

Baucus, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee and architect of the new federal health care law, has set his sights on rewriting U.S. tax code, a task Politico called “a once-in-a-generation undertaking certain to spark an all-out lobbying war on Capitol Hill and at the White House.”

Pundits expect Baucus, architect of the controversial Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. “Obamacare,” to face a tough reelection battle in 2014. 

Three high-ranking Baucus staffers, including his chief of staff, have left Baucus’ office in recent weeks.

An exodus is occurring among committee staff and in Baucus’ personal office, leading tax lobbyists and congressional staffers to wonder about the effect this will have on any potential overhaul of the tax code in 2013, as well as Baucus’ own legislative agenda.

According to the National Journal, Russ Sullivan, Baucus’ “long-time right hand man” and the Democratic staff director of the Senate Finance Committee, on Thursday became the most recent staff member to move on to a new carrier after working 18 years in the Senate.

Baucus chief of staff , Jon Selib, announced earlier this month he was leaving Baucus’ staff to take a job in the private sector with a British strategic intelligence firm called Hakluyt.

According to Politico’s “Influence” blog, K Street “heavyweights in the tax arena” were scheduled to throw a happy hour in Selib’s name today:

Sen. Max Baucus's (D-Mont.) chief of staff Jon Selib is going out in style with more than a dozen downtowners, many heavyweights in the tax arena, throwing a happy hour in his honor Thursday.

Robert Glennon, Nick Giordanob, Jeff Forbes, David Castagnetti, Greg Mastel and Patrick Heck are all on the invite list for the event at 201 Bar. Peter Scher, Tim Punke, Judy Miller, Liz Flower Fowler and Jim Messina are also on the host committee.

A third Baucus staffer, corporate tax expert David Hughes is leaving Baucus’ staff to join the IRS, the National Journal reports.

The Journal said the departure of the three high-level staffers from the Senate’s top tax-writing committee comes at a curious time when “Congress is mired in fights over the future of tax policy, with no immediate compromise in sight or commitment to do tax reform.”

The committee's spokesman said these departures would have no bearing on committee business next year. “Senator Baucus has every intention of taking tax reform up in the next Congress and working to create jobs and boost the economy," said Sean Neary, communications director. "He has been laying the groundwork for tax reform for well over a year, meeting regularly with Finance Committee members as well as Ways and Means Chairman, Dave Camp.   He is prepared and confident that the Committee can get something done. And he is confident it will get done with his new staff director Amber Cottle at the helm."

The Journal said such high-level departures means a significant loss of expertise for the Senate Finance Committee:

…both in terms of the policy and politics of the best way to move legislation forward. That’s a blow for Baucus, who's intent on doing tax reform next year.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day still gives me goose bumps

IMG_2454One of my earliest memories is of Election Day, 1984.

I was a five-year-old future voter, and my Dad took me along to the polls when got home from work. My dad is a retired social studies teacher, so it’s no wonder he instilled in me a sense of civic duty early on by dragging me to polls on Election Day.

I remember my dad chatting with the election judges, most of whom were familiar faces after years of voting in the same place. I remember following him into the tiny little booth with the blue curtain. I remember back then the ballots were punch cards, and you slipped the yellow card into a box that held it in place, then you used these little metal punch things to punch the hole next to the candidate of your choosing. Early voting machineTo me the whole process seemed so important, even then.

Elections Day has always felt sacred to me, from those early days of watching my dad punch his ballot, to my first vote for president in 2000, to today.

So much hinges on this one day of the year. From the future of a local school to the future of our country, Election Day is the day we as citizens get to play a critical role in the outcome.

My hope is that voters still feel at least some sense of civic pride on Election Day, even after all the millions of dollars spent on TV attack ads, all the thousands of campaign fliers which filled up our mailboxes, and the dozens (or more) phone calls from campaigns, pollsters and activists.

Our politics are far from perfect and there are plenty of reasons for people across the political spectrum to complain these days. No matter what the outcome, a large portion of our state and our country are not going to be pleased with the result. We are a polarized electorate, perhaps more so than at any other time in our recent history. But my hope is that when the dust settles tomorrow, we can move forward as community, a state and a country with the goal of trying to do more to understand the other side. My hope is that regardless of who our president, or governor, or senator or next county commissioner is on Jan. 1, that we as a citizenry will vow to work harder to be more civil, to focus more on solving problems that affect us all, and to care more deeply for each other. Because regardless of who our elected officials are, at the end of the day we’re all still in this together.

I voted

Monday, November 5, 2012 is the place to be on Election Night

To say it's been a long campaign season is an understatement, with campaign spending at record rates and neck-and-neck races from the national to local level.

The Great Falls Tribune is your source for live campaign results Tuesday, at and on mobile devices and tablets with the Great Falls Tribune app.

Watch our interactive graphics, with results as soon as the polls on the East Coast close, which is 6 p.m. Mountain Standard Time.

Tribune Capital Bureau Chief John S. Adams will host a live, online chat from 7 to 8 p.m., the hour before Montana's polls close, answering election night questions from you, discussing campaigns, and delivering the latest news about this year's election.

When those shut down at 8 p.m., we will have results posted immediately as they become available.

In the presidential race, we'll keep you abreast of the latest vote tallies, electoral votes, congressional balance in both the U.S. Senate and House, as well as Montana's race for the governor's and other Land Board seats, lone Congressional seat and, of course, the race between Jon Tester and Denny Rehberg for the Senate.

The majority for both houses in Montana's 2013 Legislature is potentially up for grabs, and there are significant races for local seats this year, too.

Great Falls Tribune reporters will be across the state, from Helena to Billings, providing up-to-the-minute results, candidates' and party officials' reactions and interviews.

You can find results and reactions from across the state on the live Twitter feed at Follow us @GFTribune.

Wednesday's print edition will include local election results from across northcentral Montana, from the North Dakota border to Glacier County, as well as those from statewide and national race.

But as recent elections have proved, sometimes final results aren't decided until after the sun rises Wednesday. Continue to watch throughout the day for late results, as well as analysis of what those results could mean both nationally and at the state level.

[Reprinted from the 11/4/12 Great Falls Tribune Viewpoints ]

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Money in politics, then and now

While rummaging around in the archives at the Montana Historical Society yesterday I came across a Nov. 1978 headline in the Great Falls Tribune that caught my attention:


The 1978 headline juxtaposed with what I watched last night on Montana PBS was a stark reminder of money’s dramatic influence our politics today .

If you didn’t watch the Frontline/Marketplace special “Big Sky, Big Money,” do yourself a favor and do it now. You can see first hand how third party groups, SuperPACs, and shadowy tax-exempt 501(c)(4) “dark money” groups are trying to influence the outcomes our elections here in Montana while hiding from public view the identity of those trying to influence us. It’s a sobering exposé of  post-Citizens United Montana and the group whose lawsuit reaffirmed the controversial Supreme Court decision and tossed out our 100-year-old Corrupt Practices Act in the process.  Watch it here or go to Frontline’s excellent website for more interactive features about money in politics:

Watch Big Sky, Big Money on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Montana State University political science professor David Parker is featured in the program. Parker says outside groups spent $6.8 million on the Montana Senate race through June alone.

According to Great Falls Tribune Washington bureau reporter Malia Rulon, during the first three weeks of October, Montanans were subjected to 25,211 political ads about the race between Democratic Sen. Jon Tester and his Republican challenger, Rep. Denny Rehberg. During that three-week period, groups spent $3.27 million.

So in 1978 Democrat Max Baucus’ and Republican Larry Williams’ campaigns combined spent less than $1 million on the Senate race and in 2012 the campaigns and third-party groups, many of whom are funded by secret donors and corporations, spent more than three times as much in a three-week period alone.

“2012 will go down as a record-pulverizing year for political advertising,” said Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project.

The future of American politics post-Citizens United is here folks. Like what you see?

Monday, October 29, 2012

What everyone’s talking about: Big Sky, Big Money

In case you haven’t seen it yet, this ProPublica/Frontline report investigating the shadowy “dark money” group American Tradition Partnership is causing quite a stir in Big Sky Country this morning (emphases mine):

The boxes landed in the office of Montana investigators in March 2011.

Found in a meth house in Colorado, they were somewhat of a mystery, holding files on 23 conservative candidates in state races in Montana. They were filled with candidate surveys and mailers that said they were paid for by campaigns, and fliers and bank records from outside spending groups. One folder was labeled "Montana $ Bomb."

The documents pointed to one outside group pulling the candidates' strings: a social welfare nonprofit called Western Tradition Partnership, or WTP.

Altogether, the records added up to possible illegal "coordination" between the nonprofit and candidates for office in 2008 and 2010, said a Montana investigator and a former Federal Election Commission chairman who reviewed the material. Outside groups are allowed to spend money on political campaigns, but not to coordinate with candidates.

"My opinion, for what it's worth, is that WTP was running a lot of these campaigns," said investigator Julie Steab of the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices, who initially received the boxes from Colorado.

It’s a long read, but well worth it.

This Oct. 29 ProPublica/Frontline report is just the tip of the iceberg. A series of investigative reports by ProPublica, Frontline and The Center for Public Integrity dig deep into the question: “who is funding attacks on Montana’s election laws?”

The reportage will continue on PBS tomorrow, Oct. 30, when Frontline airs what former Montana Public Radio capital bureau reporter Emilie Ritter referred to on her facebook page as “a big ol’  journalism bomb"”:

Watch Big Sky, Big Money, an investigation with Marketplace on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

The program airs at 8:30 p.m. on Montana PBS, but cick here to check your local listings. It will also be available online beginning Oct. 30.

In this Oct. 22 report, journalists Kim Barker, of ProPublica, and Emma Schwartz, of Frontline, uncover evidence that Western Tradition Partnership “misled the IRS when it applied for the tax-exempt status that shields its donors from being publicly disclosed.”

Documents obtained by ProPublica and Frontline show that Western Tradition Partnership, now known as American Tradition Partnership, said it would not attempt to sway elections when it asked the IRS to recognize it as a tax-exempt social welfare organization in late 2008.

Shortly before submitting the application, however, Western Tradition Partnership, which bills itself as a "grassroots lobbying" organization dedicated to fighting radical environmentalists, and a related political committee sent out fliers weighing in on candidates for Montana state office. The mailers blitzed districts in Montana days before the Republican primary.

Also last Monday The Center For Public Integrity published this report showing that a millionaire furniture store mogul from Colorado dumped $300,000 to get ATP “on its feet”:

In its 2008 application for tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organization, ATP listed its “primary donor” as Jacob Jabs, Colorado’s largest furniture retailer and a donor to Republican candidates and causes. Jabs pledged a $300,000 contribution to get ATP on its feet, according to IRS records obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.

Jabs, through a spokesman, on Monday said he did not make a donation and has "never heard of" ATP or the group's previous incarnation.

"He did not commit to the funds indicated by Athena Dalton in the filing so clearly he did not give them funds," wrote Charlie Shaulis, director of communications for American Furniture Warehouse, Jabs' company, in an email to I-News Network in Colorado.

Dalton wrote a letter to the IRS asking the agency to speed up the process for awarding it nonprofit  status. The letter states that the approval was needed quickly, otherwise Jabs would not make a contribution. The agency gave it the thumbs up four days later.

All of this reporting is coming out in the two weeks before the Nov. 6 election, and tomorrow’s Frontline exposé is exactly one week from election day.

How will “dark money” impact our elections?

We might not know for months, or even years what the full effect has been or will be. But I for one am glad the rest of the country is taking an interest in Montana’s elections and examining how Big Sky Country has become a petri dish for experiments in “dark money” manipulation of politics.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Dems slam Fox’s role in SME bankruptcy

The Montana Democratic Party is criticizing Republican Attorney General Candidate Tim Fox's role in the ongoing Southern Montana Electrical Cooperative bankruptcy proceeding. 

Earlier this month the Democrats accused Fox of "playing a central role in a legal scheme that could put millions (of dollars) in the pockets of out-of-state predatory lenders." faldc5bak-5k3tf3tkbcmh4rnr8nc_layout

At issue is Fox's role in representing lenders who gave money to embattled SME to build the Highwood Generating Station.

First some background: Critics of the beleaguered power venture say the giant finance companies knew, or should have known, that loaning SME the capital to build Highwood Generating Station was a risky venture.

Public Service Commission chairman Travis Kavulla, a Republican, said in an interview with the Tribune last month that the loan Prudential Capital Group of Dallas gave to SME was "totally well-above the market rates" given to similar power plants.

Prudential, the largest lender to loan SME money, loaned the company $75 million at 8 percent interest which the company used along with along with a $10 million loan from another lender at 7.25 percent interest, “to pay for a plant that should have cost more like half that," Kavulla said, adding that the the loans were "risky and predatory." faldc5-6466g2v620hxc19tbl9_original

The Democrats jumped on an recent Associated Press story, in which Kavulla said he he is "concerned the individual members of the electricity cooperative may end up paying the price for the bad decisions by Southern managers and lenders."

The cost to run the plant currently exceeds the open-market price of electricity, Kavulla said.

So where does Tim Fox come into play in all this?

Fox is representing Prudential Capital Group, the largest lender, in the ongoing bankruptcy saga. According to federal court records, lawyer and trustee fees related to the bankruptcy proceedings have already eclipsed $1 million.

"If Fox and his clients have their way in court, SME customers — both ratepayers and taxpayers — could be on the hook to pay back millions, including over a million in attorney fees. This will amount to tens of thousands of dollars each for a loan that Fox's clients likely knew was 'risky and predatory," the Democratic Party said in its Oct. 1 release.

Fox's attorney fees account for a just a tiny fraction of the overall fees paid in the case. According to court records Fox, who is charging an hourly rate of $250, filed reimbursement requests totaling $12,500 since getting involved in November, 2011.

That's chump change compared to many other lawyers involved in the case, some of whom charge up to $845 per hour for their time.

For his part Fox declined to comment on his role in representing Prudential in the SME bankruptcy.

"I don't talk about my clients' business in pending cases," Fox said in an interview. "I can't do that, ethically. It's public record that I have appeared on behalf of a creditor in a bankruptcy case, but that's all I can say about that."

faldc5-64xf7tvqsdtpg5uc4if_layoutFox's opponent in the attorney general race, Helena Democrat Pam Bucy, said in a statement that she believes everyone deserves legal representation, but she is troubled that Fox took Prudential on as a client in a case that opposes Montana ratepayers and taxpayers.

"The attorney general is Montana's chief consumer protection advocate," Bucy, a former assistant attorney general under Democrat Mike McGrath. "We established the Office of Consumer Protection at the Department of Justice so that Montanans would have legal recourse in cases like this, where out-of-state lenders have made risky and predatory loans to Montana consumers. Since we are both running to be Montana's chief legal representative, it is alarming to see my opponent put the profits of risky, predatory out-of-state lenders before the well-being of Montanans."

Since electric coops are not regulated by the PSC, the SME case would fall to the next attorney general and the Office of Consumer Protection if consumers file a complaint of unfair debt collection practices, the Democrats claim.

According to the latest Public Policy Polling survey, Fox has 45-35 lead over Bucy with a whopping 20 percent still undecided.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Judge may release investigation report in Flathead Lake boat crash before Nov. 6 election

Flathead County District Judge John McKeon, of Malta, will consider whether to release the pre-sentence investigation report that was part of the criminal case against former Montana State Sen. Greg Barkus, R-Kalispell.

McKeon ordered all sides in the case to respond by Oct. 23 to a non-profit watchdog group’s  request that the court release the pre-sentence investigation report related to the 2009 boat crash which left Barkus, Congressman Denny Rehberg and three others seriously injured. The group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, wants the documents released before the Nov. 6 election in which Rehberg, a Republican, is challenging incumbent Democratic Sen. Jon Tester for the U.S. Senate.

According to CREW’s Oct. 10 press release:

“CREW requested the PSI to shed light on the true facts surrounding the crash, including the extent to which those facts differ from the version offered by Rep. Dennis Rehberg (R-MT), a passenger on the boat who denied Sen. Barkus was impaired in any way.”

Rehberg’s campaign did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on CREW’s request or McKeon’s order.

UPDATE: Rehberg’s campaign manager, Erik Iverson, said in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon that his boss has no control over whether the report is released or not because he is not a party to the case in question.

“Denny was a witness and has no rights or privileges different than any other witness,” Iverson said. “That said, it doesn't matter to Denny what the judge decides. He has no problem with the documents being released at all. He has not seen them or read them, but either way Denny is fine with whatever the judge decides to do."

Barkus, who was the House majority whip at the time, was behind the wheel of the boat that on Aug. 27, 2009 slammed into the rocks on the shore of Flathead Lake near Wayfarers State Park. Court records revealed that Barkus’ blood alcohol content was .16, twice the legal limit of .08, nearly two hours after the crash. Rehberg, two of his staff members and Barkus’ wife were passengers on the boat, and all were seriously injured in the crash. Rehberg denied being impaired himself and said he “saw no signs of impairment” in Barkus.

(You can download the complete audio from Rehberg’s hour-long press conference two weeks after the crash here).

Barkus was charged with criminal endangerment and negligent vehicular assault. McKeon rejected prosecutors’ original plea agreement with Barkus, which called for a three-year deferred sentence, a $4,000 restitution payment and unsupervised probation. McKeon instead imposed a $29,000 fine and a four-year deferred prison sentence.

On Oct. 1 CREW asked McKeon to release the pre-sentence investigation report that the court used to determine Barkus’ sentence. According to court records, the report includes:

  1. photographs of the crash;
  2. witness statements;
  3. the investigating officers’ reports;
  4. toxicology reports;
  5. the report of the accident reconstruction expert;
  6. written or transcribed statements of the the boat’s occupants;
  7. a history of Barkus’ 2004 conviction on traffic offenses, including the circumstances surrounding the reckless driving conviction in which he was originally charged with driving under the influence of alcohol.

Under state law, McKeon cannot disseminate the pre-sentence investigation report to CREW without first finding “that the demands of individual privacy do not clearly exceed the merits of the public disclosure.”

CREW chief legal counsel Anne L. Weismann argued that the Barkus case involved people in positions of public trust. Barkus was a sitting state senator at the time of the crash and Rehberg, a sitting U.S. Congressman now and at the time of the crash, is running for the U.S. Senate. CREW argued there is “significant public interest in disclosure” to understand the circumstances of the crash and how those circumstances relate to the integrity and judgment of the public officials involved in the crash.

Barkus’ case was ongoing when Rehberg sought reelection to the House in 2010. The case was scheduled to go to trial more than three weeks after the election but the settlement was eventually reached and finalized in January 2011, after Rehberg started his sixth term in Congress.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Schweitzer’s “VETO Chicken”

Absentee ballots hit the mail today marking the home stretch of the 2012 election season, and term-limited Gov. Brian Schweitzer reminded voters what is at stake in the 2013 Legislative session.

Not one to shy away from the limelight, Schweitzer, a Democrat, continues to thump his chest over last session's record 79 vetoes of Republican bills with a tweet today featuring a photo of "veto chicken."

Schweitzer, who has done little to temper speculation that he plans to seek a higher office after his gubernatorial term expires, was was the keynote speaker at NARAL Pro-Choice America’s 18th annual “Chicago Power of Choice Luncheon,” at the downtown Standard Club. According to Schweitzer’s spokeswoman, that’s where the “Veto Chicken” was served.

Schweitzer has built a national following among some members of his party who admire his no-holds-barred approach to taking on Republicans in the Capitol. From calling the GOP-controlled Legislature “bat crap crazy” or using a red-hot branding iron to “veto” Republican bills in 2011,  Schweitzer has never backed down from a battle with his Republican rivals.

With Republicans looking to hold solid majorities in the next Legislative session, many of the same bills Schweitzer vetoed in 2011 will no-doubt land on the next governor’s desk in 2013.

Democratic Attorney General Steve Bullock has already said he would veto any right-to-work bill that crosses his desk. Bullock has also invoked Schweitzer’s “bat crap crazy” remark, saying any bills to allow spear hunting, or calls for secession from the union or or measures aimed at imposing a gold standard in the state will likely meet his veto pen. However, Bullock recently told students at Great Falls High that since he’s a lawyer he would probably use a fountain pen, rather than a branding iron, to do the deed.

Meanwhile, Rick Hill, a Republican, has said he would allow some of the bills that Schweitzer vetoed to become law. Hill said he supports right-to-work legislation and at a debate in Helena the former Montana congressman said he supports the ballot measure that would change Montana law to require women under 18 to get parental consent before having an abortion, a bill Schweitzer vetoed in 2011.

If the measure fails at the ballot box come November, chances are that proposal will still become law if Hill is elected governor.

Schweitzer’s “veto chicken” tweet, as odd as it was, serves as a reminder that the next governor will probably see many of the same bills he vetoed in 2011.  Some voters will no-doubt have that in mind when they fill out their ballots this fall.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Slate names Baucus fastest marathoning politician

Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s fib over his supposed sub-3:00 marathon time has created quite a stir among the running community.

Now has put together a nifty little animated graphic showing who the fastest Washington, D.C. politicians are.

It should come as no surprise to Montanans that Democratic Sen. Max Baucus, famous for his passion for distance running, is near the top of the list.

Ryan’s “2 hour and 50-something” Marathon time would have beaten out Baucus’ personal record of 3:01, but, as the Slate graphic points out, that time was DQed.

Ryan later told a reporter for Toledo News Now that he forgot his time and was trying to give an average time.

"I literally thought that was my time. It was 22 years ago. You forget sorta these things," Ryan said.

Here’s a link to the graphic where you can watch Baucus best the field of representative stick people.


Friday, June 22, 2012

Critics question Bullock's strategy in Citizens United challenge

Editor’s note: For those who are interested in reading more about this case I included the complete text from today’s story in the Great Falls Tribune with links to relevant source material.

Is Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock ignoring the best possible challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling?

That's the question being raised by a growing chorus of activists and legal bloggers who claim the key to overturning the high court's polarizing landmark ruling - which allows corporations to donate unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns - lies in the 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

According to the legal theory proffered by Hawaii-based The Eleventh Amendment Movement and Essential Information, a nonprofit citizen action group founded by Ralph Nadar, the 11th Amendment bars federal courts from hearing lawsuits brought by private parties against states.

The groups argue the Supreme Court should not even consider the lawsuit challenging Montana's 100-year-old Corrupt Practices Act, American Tradition Partnership v. Attorney General.

Attorneys for the state say they're following the best course of action to defend Montana's campaign finance law, and one legal scholar called arguments in support of 11th Amendment jurisdictional claims "frivolous."

Supporters of the legal strategy say Montana has the best chance to deal a potentially lethal blow to the controversial Citizens United ruling but Bullock, the Democratic nominee for Montana governor, is refusing to take the best shot.

Part of their argument centers on the fact that lawyers for ATP made a technical error when they named Bullock, in his official capacity as the state's attorney general, as a defendant.

Supporters of the 11th Amendment argument say Bullock should seize on that technical error and try to convince the Supreme Court to toss the case, even if that means avoiding the chance to argue the merits of the case.

005_5"Montana has chosen to carry the banner of campaign finance reform for the whole country, and this case could well determine whether Citizens United applies to every state in the union," said TEAM attorney Carl Mayer.

Mayer is an attorney who filed one of two amicus,or "friend-of-the-court," briefs to the Supreme Court arguing that ATP's attempt to overturn Montana's campaign finance law should be rejected on 11th Amendment jurisdictional grounds.

"You have a conservative five-person majority on the court, and they all have embraced the 11th Amendment and state's rights arguments in other contexts," Mayer said. "For an attorney at any level to not raise a jurisdictional issue, especially in a case like this, is a serious litigation error."

Bullock's spokesman, John Doran, said the legal briefs filed by Montana are supported by some of the brightest legal minds in the country.

"Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia, as well as Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and John McCain, R-Ariz., agree with Montana's position," Doran said. "Our briefs focus on what this case is actually about: money in state politics and whether the court opened the floodgates of corruption in the states when it decided Citizens United."

On Thursday, the nine Supreme Court justices were scheduled to meet in conference to give final consideration to the case after delaying a decision last week.

Adam best photo1According to TEAM founder Adam Furgatch, the high court has three main options:

» It could accept the case and schedule a hearing for oral arguments;

» It could accept the case and summarily reverse the Montana Supreme Court's decision, or;

» It could reject the case and thus effectively uphold the Montana Supreme Court's decision.

Furgatch said Bullock still has time to raise the 11th Amendment issue before the Supreme Court announces its decision on whether to accept or deny the case, which could come as early as Monday.

According to Furgatch, if Bullock files a one-page motion between now and then asking the high court to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction based on the 11th Amendment claims, then it would be difficult for the justices to accept and then summarily dismiss the case without first considering the 11th Amendment jurisdictional claims.

"There hasn't been one single legal commentator or law professor who has been able to find fault with the 11th Amendment argument," Furgatch said.

On Thursday, one such law professor did step forward to dismiss Furgatch and Mayer's arguments.

William "Bill" Marshall is the Kenan professor of law at the University of North Carolina. Marshall also served as deputy White House counsel and deputy assistant to the president of the United States during the Clinton administration.

Marshall said the 11th Amendment claims laid out in the amicus briefs "border on the frivolous" and defended Bullock's decision to not raise the issue before the high court.

"If the Supreme Court did not have jurisdiction over cases like this one, it would seriously cut back on the ability of the Supreme Court to exercise jurisdiction over constitutional rights in cases going back, literally, 100 years," Marshall said. "There's no doubt the U.S. Supreme Court has jurisdiction over federal issues.

Mayer and Furgatch said Montana Assistant Attorney General James "Jim" Molloy acknowledged Bullock's office considered the 11th Amendment argument, but the state's attorneys are reluctant to raise the issue.

In a June 6 email to Furgatch and Mayer, Molloy wrote that the Attorney General's office considered TEAM's arguments and theories "with respect to the issues presented in this case, as well as with respect to the potential implications in other contexts, if (TEAM's) theories were adopted."

Furgatch and Mayer contend that Molloy's email appears to acknowledge the 11th Amendment argument is strong enough to win.

"They have a fear that it's a good argument and it could win but they are afraid of potential implications in other contexts, but they don't say what those are," Furgatch said.

Molloy elaborated on the state's position in an interview Thursday.

"The 11th Amendment argument extended to its logical conclusion would mean the U.S. Supreme Court has no authority if a state supreme court were to ignore a Supreme Court ruling," Molloy said. "That's not a position the state of Montana believes in and it is not one we chose to advocate for."

Molloy pointed out TEAM's 11th Amendment argument is already before the court in the form of the two amicus briefs, and he said the justices are free to consider those arguments without the state having to make them.

"We presented it to leading constitutional lawyers around the country. We evaluated it and no one felt it was a wise or meritorious approach to take in this case," Molloy said. Doran said the amicus briefs filed by TEAM and Essential Information do not directly address Citizens United, but instead rely on a "questionable legal theory" that would "basically allow states to avoid following the U.S. Constitution."

"Attorney General Bullock will not be distracted from the real issues presented in this case. He will keep his eye on the ball and continue to fight for clean and fair elections in Montana and across the nation," Doran said.

"All questions before the Supreme Court are questionable before the court rules," TEAM responded in a statement late Thursday. "In this case, where four justices are already opposed to Citizens United on the merits, only one justice needs to be persuaded by our side of the question to make this the winning argument."

The TEAM statement went on to say that contrary to Doran's response, the 11th Amendment argument "allows the precise application of the Constitution's 11th Amendment principles to win the case."

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Opposing displays outside GOP convention

As Montana Republicans considered platform planks, elected delegates and speechified to loyal supporters, Bruce Russell, Sr. quietly paced back and forth outside Missoula’s Hilton Garden Inn holding a homemade sign that simply said: “Den of Thieves.”


Russell kept is vigil for nearly four hours Saturday morning, walking back and forth so he wouldn’t be ticketed by police for “loitering.”

“The party inside is responsible for the economic depression that befell this country in 2008,” Russell said.

Russell was also pretty peeved about the float parked in front of the hotel depicting the “Obama Presidential Library” as an bullet-hole-ridden outhouse known as “Out House One".”

Russell, an Army medic in Vietnam, said as a veteran he was appalled by the display.

“That makes me sick no matter who the president is,” he said.


The outhouse featured plenty of…well… let’s just say colorful “graffiti.”

Inside was a outhouse stool with a semi-circle hole with the words “Half Ass” and “Policies of the Left” written next to it and a framed Obama “birth certificate” hung above it.

A poster on the wall said “For a good time call: 1-800 Michelle Hillary Pelosi.”

An historic photograph an unidentified black man was tacked to the wall with the word “Dad” scrawled beneath it.

Here are a few more photos of the…display.

Half ass

Outhouse dad

Outshouse inside

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Found Ochenski: He's at the Missoulian

Where's Ochenski? 

Loyal readers of longtime Missoula Independentopinion columnist George Ochenski won't have to wait much longer to find out.

It didn't take long for the Indy's chief rival in Missoula, Lee Newspaper's Missoulian, to offer Ochenski a weekly space on their opinion pages. 

According to an email I just received from Ochenski, Missoulian editor Sherry Devlin has offered to print his column each Monday. At about 750 words, Ochenski's new space will be slightly smaller than the 1,000 words he regularly submitted to the Indy. But as Mark Twain was keenly aware when he said “I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead," longer does not necessarily mean better. 

Ochenski's column, which was the cornerstone of the Indy's weekly news coverage for some 12 years, came to an abrupt end last Thursday. Ochenski and Robert Meyerowitz, the editor who has been at the helm of the alternative newsweekly for about a year, apparently didn't agree about Meyerowitz's handing of Ochenski's columns. 

Ochenski told conservative talk-show host Aaron Flint that he was "forced out" by Meyerowitz. According to the Flint Report, Ochenski said Meyerowitz had been "wading into (Ochenski's) columns, changing headlines, and told him that he couldn't write about national or international topics."

Meyerowitz responded to Flint via email, saying:
"Wading into his columns, changing headlines"? What do you think an editor does?

Wading in? Changing headlines? We edit all the copy we publish, through several layers, and write headlines. We also maintain journalistic standards, for such things as fairness and accuracy, that apply to everything we publish; George Ochenski was no exception. I guess he didn't like that.

He hasn't been silenced. He can publish anywhere he's able, as far as I can see. And he hasn't been censored. We choose what we publish."
Evidently Ochenski has found a new home to publish where he'll be free to write his opinions his way

According to his email to me early this afternoon:
"Sherry Devlin, the Missoulian's editor, has given me the leeway to write what I want, will not edit the columns except for spelling, etc., and will be sticking my mug shot at the top of the column."
So, Ochenski columns live on -- they just have a new home at the Missoulian.

This will no doubt come as good news to Ochenski's loyal fans, and it will undoubtedly have some reverberations a few blocks away at the Indy office's.

As a former reporter for the Indy, I can say from personal newsroom experience that Ochenski's column was a critical part of the paper's weekly coverage and political analysis. It's no secret that Ochenski is a progressive, anti-war, environmentalist (a seemingly nice fit for a left-leaning alternative newspaper). Ergo, not everyone -- even in Missoula -- agreed with his weekly opinions. Not even close. 

But I believe his column is valued by so many readers around the state because he tells the truth, he sticks to his principles, and is rabidly non-partisan.

Take Flint Report commenter Bob "The Gas Guy" van der Valk's post last Friday:
"I do not necessarily agree with (Ochenski) about the Federal influence on energy companies using right of way to ship or transmit over or under our Big Sky Country state. For instance the Keystone XL pipeline will be a vital link to assist the US in becoming energy secure...."
"...We need both sides to be represented in any future important political discussions."
Ochenski is respected beyond the reach of the Indy's dead-tree distribution because he takes Republicans and Democrats to task in his no-holds-barred opinion columns. He holds elected leaders from all parties accountable. He is sharp-tongued, quick-witted, and, thanks to decades in the trenches as an environmental lobbyist in Helena, has an uncanny ability to boil down complex issues into concise, hard-hitting opinion columns. 

Ochenski's columns certainly give certain politicians, corporations and party loyalists plenty heartburn. I'm sure there were more than a few people around the state who hoped the Indy's spiking of Ochenski's column would be the last they'd hear of him. 

Ochesnki's fans, no doubt, will be glad he's still writing...even if it is for the cross-town "mainstream" newspaper.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Where’s Ochenski?

If you pick up a copy of the Missoula Independent today there’s a story on the cover about the 55 years of collective newsroom experience recently exiting the Missoulian newsroom.

I can’t find the link to the story from today’s paper, but a recent Indy blog post pointed out the departures of longtime Missoulian reporters Michael Moore, Joe Nickell, Jamie Kelly and Chelsi Moy.

Interestingly, I can’t seem to find something else in the Indy today: I can’t seem to find a link to longtime political columnist George Ochenski’s regular weekly column.

As I do on most Thursday mornings, I logged on to the Indy today to see what insight and analysis Ochenski would have on Tuesday’s primary race results, but I can’t seem find it.

Ochenski has, as far as I know, never missed a weekly column in 11 or 12 years of writing at the Indy. He’s written over 550 columns since he started “rattling the cage” of the state’s political establishment back in 2000 or so. When I worked there, Ochenski’s column reliably arrived at the Indy newsroom offices every Tuesday morning and occupied the same page in the paper week in and week out without fail.

So where is he this week?

I find it somewhat odd that Indy deemed it newsworthy to point out on its cover the 55 years of collective newsroom experience that exited the Missoulian but didn’t bother to mention to loyal readers why it’s longtime political columnist is now absent from its own pages.

The Indy is celebrating it’s 21st anniversary this year and Ochenski has been there for more than half those writing incisive and provocative columns that took on Republicans and Democrats alike. Whether you like his opinions or hate them, they’re his opinions and there isn’t a single columnist in the state who has been writing them as long or as well as Ochenski.

A comment on a recent blog post over at 4and20 Blackbirds by longtime commenter/blogger JConrad indicates there might have been disagreements between Ochenski and the Indy’s relatively new editor, Robert Meyerowitz. I hope that trouble doesn’t mean we won’t be reading Ochenski’s column in the Indy any longer.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The perennial “robo-call”

Today as I was standing in line at my favorite lunch joint when my cell phone rang. The number that popped up was that of GOP gubernatorial candidate Ken Miller.

If you read today’s profile of Miller you might recognize the number because it is the same number Miller asked all Montanans to use to reach him on the campaign trail.

I answered the phone expecting Miller might want to chat about the recent article, but he didn’t even give me a chance to say hello. Actually, it wasn’t really Ken on the other line. It was a recorded version of Ken:

Hi. This is Ken Miller. If you haven't heard I'm a grassroots tea party-endorsed conservative running for governor of Montana. The Miller momentum is growing like wildfire across this state and with my running mate Bill Gallagher, we are winning straw polls everywhere. You may have seen our green and blue signs in your area. I hope we can count on your vote for Miller-Gallagher by June 5th. I'd love to hear from you today. I'm Ken Miller. Feel free to call me on my personal cell 670-8318. This call is paid for by Miller for Governor box 325 Lower Montana.”

Commissioner of Political Practices Jim Murry, who on Thursday denied Miller’s request to dismiss an ethics case filed by Miller’s former chief fundraiser, said he also received Miller’s robo-call. Murry said his office has already received several complaints, which he turned over to Lewis & Clark County Attorney Leo Gallagher.

In addition to Miller, people have recently reported receiving robo-calls from Montana Conservation Voters urging recipients to vote for Democratic Attorney General candidate Pam Bucy and Democratic gubernatorial candidate and current Attorney General Steve Bullock.

It seems like I write at least one story each election cycle about candidate or campaign using robo-calls. Candidates from both parties like to complain about how their opponent’s use of robo-calls is “illegal” and “unethical.” That might be true.

But what’s also true is candidates from both major parties use them every year.

In 2008 Republicans griped that the Montana Democratic Party was using robo-calls to support Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate Denise Juneau. (sorry, the article is archived so no link).

Then-MDP spokesman Kevin O’Brien (now Bullock’s campaign spokesperson), made no apologies for the Juneau call in 2008.

"We believe that free speech is protected by the U.S. Constitution, and we are going to do everything that we can to make sure that every voter has the opportunity and ability to vote," O'Brien said Wednesday in 2008.

Last year Bullock sided with attorneys general from across the country in opposing a federal law that would have made it more difficult for states to enforce bans against robo-calls to cell phones, but he’s apparently benefitting from MCV’s during this election season.

Gallagher said his office received several robo-call complaints Thursday. Gallagher has long been sick of the calls, which he says are illegal.

“What I've done in the past is I’ve written a letter to each party and advised them that robo-calls violate 45-8-216 and I asked them to please advise anybody who asks them that they are a violation of state law and if they do it they'll be charged,” Gallagher said.

However so far no county attorney has ever brought charges against a political candidate or third-party group for making robo-calls in Montana.

So why doesn’t anyone enforce the law against robo-calls? Here’s how one long-time campaign organizer explained it to me:

“I'm told the legislative language directly contradicts 1st Amendment precedents. Nobody will bring suit or levy fines because there is too much precedent to overturn, and losing in court would effectively tell everyone it's ok to do autodials, which would remove any hesitation the legislative language might give candidates.”

For his part, Miller said he and his campaign advisors believe the calls going out this week are legal.

“We've done a lot of research on it, and it is our opinion and it is the opinion of many others” that robo-calls are legal, Miller said.

“We felt that we could be at a disadvantage to our competition if we did not use them, and we wanted to be a step above so we made sure that the caller ID has my personal cell phone number on it,” Miller said.

If you ask me, until a county attorney brings charges and the matter is settled in court once and for all, robo-calls during election season will be as perennial as daffodils, green grass, and apple blossoms blowing on a warm spring breeze…just not as pleasant.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Schweitzer in 2006: ‘I might support’ Romney presidential bid


Six years ago Gov. Brian Schweitzer raised eyebrows in Big Sky Country and beyond when he made an off-hand remark about then-governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney.

The Montana governor — who touched off a firestorm of controversy last week when he told a reporter for The Daily Beast that the presumptive GOP presidential nominee might have some trouble with voters because his father was “born on a polygamy commune in Mexico” — didn't use the words "polygamy" or "Mormon" in that interview.

It wasn't even a perceived jab Romney that caught the attention of bloggers and political wonks. In fact it was quite the opposite.

In an Oct. 8, 2006 New York Times profile of Schweitzer, then a rising-star in the Democratic Party, the bombastic Montana governor told Times reporter Mark Sundeen he would consider voting for Romney for president.

Earlier that year Schweitzer, Romney and Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt were part of delegation of governors visiting troops serving in the Middle East as part of "Operation Enduring Freedom."

Schweitzer said he spent a lot of time with Romney on that trip and found him to be a "good guy."

"We talked about all kinds of things, business, family, government, taxes," Schweitzer said.

Schweitzer told Sundeen he supported John McCain's presidential bid in 2000 but soured on McCain because of the way he courted the religious right. Schweitzer went on to say he was intrigued by a possible presidential run by Romney, then the Republican governor of Massachusetts, in 2008.

"If he gets the nomination, I might support him,'" Schweitzer told the Times.

That perceived endorsement of a Republican raise a few Democratic hackles.

A blogger on the national Liberal blog The Daily Kos said he was "appalled" by Schweitzer's comment, writing, "If he keeps saying stuff like this his future in Democratic politics is over."

Closer to home Helena Democratic blogger and one-time Schweitzer primary challenger Don Pogreba wrote: "I know that Schweitzer wants to cultivate an image of independence … but Mitt Romney?"

Romney himself added fuel to the budding gubernatorial  "bromance" in June 2007 when he told a roomful of reporters gathered at the Montana GOP annual convention in Helena: “If any of you see your governor, give him my best. He's a great guy."

Cascade County GOP delegate James Drew, upon hearing the GOP-hopeful's comment about Schweitzer, dropped his support for Romney.

"He said that?” Drew asked me when I was reporter for the Missoula Independent. “Well, he just lost my vote.”

So does Schweitzer — who said in 2006 he'd consider supporting Romney for president — plan to back the Republican in 2012?

Not likely.

"I've watched an evolution in his politics since we traveled together," Schweitzer said in a recent interview. "He's taken a right turn on immigration policy and his recent comments about military expansionism are concerning. I've got concerns about his policies."

Schweitzer said he still thinks Romney is a "good man."

"I haven't met his family, but he's a good family man and he's a warm and good communicator," Schweitzer said. "I just don't really share his vision for the future of America's economic policy."

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Judicial panel appointed to investigate Judge Cebull

Judge Cebull2

U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals chief judge Alex Kozinski has appointed a special judicial committee to investigate misconduct allegations against Montana chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull.

Cebull in February sent an email from his federal courthouse chambers that contained a racist and misogynistic joke about President Barack Obama's mother.

The subject line of the email, which Cebull sent from his official courthouse email account on Feb. 20 at 3:42 p.m., reads: "A MOM'S MEMORY."

The forwarded text of the joke contained in the email read:

"A little boy said to his mother; 'Mommy, how come I'm black and you're white?' His mother replied, 'Don't even go there Barack! From what I can remember about that party, you're lucky you don't bark!'"

News of the email set of a national firestorm and calls by human rights groups, civil rights leaders and government watchdog groups for Cebull to resign. It also lead to at least three judicial misconduct complaints filed against the judge.

Travis McAdam is director of the Montana Human Rights Network, a Helena-based nonprofit organization that filed an official judicial misconduct complaint against Cebull and circulated a petition calling on Cebull to resign.

McAdam said he was pleased that Kozinski took the step of appointing an investigative committee.

"We're glad to see that the 9th Circuit is taking up this issue, and taking it up in a pretty timely fashion," McAdam said. "We're very glad to see that movement is happening and that the complaint is going to be considered."

In an interview with the Tribune Cebull denied being racist and said he only sent the joke to his friends because he is "not a fan" of the president. The next day he wrote a letter to Obama apologizing to him and his family for the email.

Cebull initiated the judicial complaint process against himself in a in a March1 letter to Kozinski, the day after the news of the email broke.

On March 23 Kozinski appointed a five-judge panel to investigate the complaint.

Judicial misconduct complaints are usually confidential and thus Kozinski's order does not name Cebull. However, Cebull waived his right to privacy when he initiated the complaint and 9th Circuit assistant circuit executive David Madden on Thursday confirmed that Kozinski's order dealt with the Cebull case.

By rule, Kozinski appointed himself, two circuit court judges and two district court judges to the panel. Judge M. Margaret McKeown will the preside over the case.

According to circuit court rules, the judicial committee has the power to subpoena information and it may hold hearings to take testimony and receive other evidence, to hear argument, or both.

Under the rules Cebull has the right to obtain legal counsel for the proceedings. Cebull also has the right to present evidence, call witnesses, and to compel the production of documents.

When the committee completes its investigation it will file a report, including findings and recommendations for council action, with the judicial council.

The president of a Washington, D.C. civil rights and liberties group People For the American Way said he was encouraged that Kozinski formed a panel to investigate the complaints.

“Judge Cebull has shown through his actions that he does not have the necessary temperament to fulfill his duties as a judge," said Michael Keegan, president of People For the American Way.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

“Code of the West” : Trailer for Montana medical marijuana documentary now online

If you were around the state Capitol last session during any number of legislative hearings on medical marijuana bills you might have noticed a documentary film crew recording nearly every second of the debate.

The filmmakers were also on scene when federal agents raided dozens of medical marijuana caregiver operations across the state on the very same day lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee were in the process of voting on a measure to repeal the 2004 voter-approved Medical Marijuana Act. The panel failed to pass the measure on a 6-6 vote.

Documentary Director, producer and writer Rebecca Richman Cohen – awarding-winning director of “War Don Don” – and her team spent countless hours in Helena and around the state documenting the political and social battles waged over the state’s groundbreaking medical pot law which passed with more than 60 percent of the vote in 2004.

The documentary premiered at SXSW last month. It’s scheduled to screen at the 10th Annual Independent Film Festival in Boston later this month. Excerpts of the film were screened at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula in February, but there’s no word yet when the completed film will be screened in Montana.

Here’s a synopsis of the documentary from the film’s website:

At a time when the country is rethinking its drug policies large and small, one state rises to the forefront of national attention. Once a pioneer in legalizing medical marijuana, the state of Montana is poised to become the first in the nation to repeal its medical marijuana law. Set against the sweeping vistas of the Rockies, the steamy lamplight of marijuana grow houses, and the bustling halls of the State Capitol, CODE OF THE WEST follows the 2011 Montana State Legislature as it debates the fate of medical marijuana. This is the story of the many lives and fraught emotions tied to one of the most heated policy questions facing the country today.

Here’s a snippet of what Cohen’s says the film is all about:

This is a film about the legislative process, but it is also the story of how different communities struggle to construct a universe of shared values. Nomos is an ancient Greek word meaning “human law.” The term is never uttered in our film, but its meaning underlies much of what our crew documented in Montana. Nomos refers not only to the formal laws that legislators draft as legal code, but it also includes the social norms and unwritten codes of conduct that govern our daily life. CODE OF THE WEST is a film about what happens when there are conflicting codes: when our formal laws conflict with each other, when our social norms conflict with our laws, and when different segments of our society hold to divergent norms…

I’ve emailed the production company to find out if/when there are plans to screen the movie in Montana. I'll post an update as soon as I hear back. No doubt the issue will be an epicenter of debate in the 2013 legislative session.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Photos of “tortured” wolf draw death threat against Missoula anti-trapping group

467501_322236927831405_148235025231597_837264_533513780_o A Missoula-based anti-trapping organization said it received a threatening email this month after the group posted graphic photos on the Internet of a live Idaho wolf caught in a foot-hold trap.

Anja Heister, executive director of Footloose Montana, on March 22 posted a series of photos gleaned from an online trapping forum called on her personal and Footloose Montana Facebook sites.

Heister said she opened Footloose Montana’s email inbox on Monday and found what she believed to be a death threat directed at family members of the organization:

“I would like to donate (sic) a gun to your childs (sic) head to make sure you can watch it die slowly so I can have my picture taken with it’s (sic) bleeding dying screaming for mercy body. YOU WILL BE THE TARGET NEXT BITCHES!” the message read.

Heister said the email was in response to the group posting photos of a northern Idaho trapper’s March 18 wolf kill, which was detailed on the online trapping forum. Pinching

The photos show trapper Josh Bransford, a fire management officer for the Nez Perce National Forest, kneeling and smiling for the camera as a wolf he caught in a foot-hold trap stands behind him in a ring of blood-soaked snow. Another photo shows a close-up of the wolf’s paw caught in the trap. A third photo shows the trapper posing with his catch.

Heister said Footloose Montana, which is actively campaigning to ban trapping in Montana, has received plenty of hostile emails and phone calls since 2007 but never anything that rose to this level.

"It has a cumulative effect on your psyche," Heister said. "I’m not easily scared, but when I read this I got really concerned."

Heister said she reported the threatening email to local and federal law enforcement officials. Missoula Police Sgt. Travis Welch confirmed the department received the report of the malicious email and that it was assigned to an investigator, but he declined to comment further.

In an online blog on Earth Island Journal’s website, writer James William Gibson recounted what Bransford — who goes by the handle "Pinching" — wrote about the photos. Bransford’s post has since been removed.

“I got a call on Sunday morning from a FS (Forest Service) cop that I know. You got one up here,” the post said, and then continued, “there was a crowd forming. Several guys had stopped and taken a shot at him already,” the post read, according to Gibson.

According to Bransford the wolf was a 100-pound male with "no rub spots" making an "good wall hanger.”

Bransford did not return calls or emails seeking comment Thursday.

As of late Thursday the photos posted on Footloose Montana’s Facebook page had received nearly 900 comments. Online commenters on both the Earth Island Journal and the Footloose Montana Facebook page expressed outrage over the photos. Many viewers were angry Bransford posed for a portrait with the wounded wolf before killing it.

Dave Linkhart, spokesman for the National Trappers Association, said there’s nothing wrong with a trapper posing with his catch before killing the animal.

"You pose with a successful catch just like you do with a successful hunt," Linkhart said. "People make the problem of attributing human feelings and emotions to these animals."

Linkhart claimed trapped animals don’t suffer, so taking the time to shoot a photograph does not cross ethical boundaries.

458357_322237394498025_148235025231597_837267_1594147433_o "If you look at the trap — across the pad of the foot like that — if you were to release the animal it would walk away like nothing happened," Linkhart said.

Marc Bekoff is a former professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder and fellow of the Animal Behavior Society who has studied the social behavior of wolves and coyotes, among other animals.

"That wolf was suffering immeasurably. Not only physically by having his foot locked in a trap, but also being shot at," said Bekoff, the author of several books on animal psychology and emotion. "This was not hunting. This was having an animal having its foot smashed in trap and then shooting at it with bullets. This wolf was tortured."

Linkhart said if the wolf was shot at, that isn’t the trapper’s fault.

"Somebody else came up there and shot that animal first. That is illegal. What the trapper has done here is not," Linkhart said. "The problem was not the trap. It was the illegal activity of the hunters who shot at that wolf."

Lowdown EXTRA: This is video “Pinching” posted to showing a bobcat stepping into a foot-hold trap:

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Former GOP election chief back on the ballot

Former Secretary of State Brad Johnson is back on the June 5 primary ballot after a computer glitch threatened his candidacy for most of the day Wednesday.

Johnson, who is running in a four-way Republican primary to challenge current Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, failed to turn his D-1 business disclosure form to the Commissioner of Political Practices by the March 20, 5 p.m. deadline.

According to state law: "the name of a candidate may not be printed on the official ballot for an election if the candidate or treasurer for a candidate fails to file any statement or report as required by this chapter."

However, lawyer contracted by the commissioner's office later determined that the D-1 form in question was not specifically required under the statute.

"We had attorney look at the statute regarding certification, and because there was a question as to whether the D-1 fit under that requirement we went ahead and certified the four candidates who were missing the D-1 form," said Mary Baker, program supervisor for the Commissioner of Political Practices.

Baker had previously sent a letter to McCulloch Tuesday informing the secretary that nine candidates, including Johnson, failed to submit all the necessary paperwork to the commissioner's office and thus would be ineligible for the primary election ballot.

The Secretary of State's Office then removed Johnson and eight other candidates from the ballot.

Johnson maintained all along that he attempted to file the D-1 form through the CPP's online system and that he thought he had done so successfully. It wasn't until he was contacted by a reporter Wednesday that he realized the CPP office never received the form.

According to Johnson, an investigation by Commissioner of Political Practices Jim Murry and CPP investigator Julie Steab later confirmed that Johnson's computer and Internet browser appeared to be incompatible with the online software used by the commissioner's office.

"We walked through the process that I went through yesterday when I thought I had successfully filed the form," Johnson said. "Sure enough, the submit button at the bottom of the form flashes, there was no error message and no reason to believe it didn't go through properly."

A spokeswoman for Secretary of State Linda McCulloch confirmed that the commissioner's office sent a second letter after business hours Wednesday retracting the names of four candidates who had not filed the D-1 form.

Johnson, who spent much of Wednesday wondering whether his candidacy was in jeopardy, praised Murry and the staff in the commissioner's office for working to correct the snafu.

"The commissioner went out of his way to meet with me and then they were out at my house the same day and they were here working through the actual process I engaged in yesterday," Johnson said. "The commissioner made a very real good-faith effort to resolve this in an expedited matter."

Johnson said the incident highlights the fact that the commissioner's office is in need of additional funding and resources and tools to improve the online filing system.

"I'm not talking about commissioner or his staff's performance. They were great today and went out of their way to expedite this," Johnson said. "The Legislature needs to assign a much higher priority for staffing and funding for that office."