As I mentioned in yesterday’s Lowdown post, on Wednesday flyers began showing up around the Capitol featuring a mock “WANTED” poster for Christian LeFer, a “key player” in the infamous dark money group American Tradition Partnership.
The flyers directed readers to “see if your legislator is implicated” in alleged “illegal campaign coordination” by visiting www.ATPexposed.org.
If you go to ATPExposed.com you’ll find three posts asserting ATP illegally coordinated legislative campaigns “with extreme right-wing candidates.”
Many of the links on the apparently brand-new website are not yet populated with content, but under the heading “incriminating evidence” you’ll find an article that attempts to connect the infamous Senate GOP leadership emails I wrote about last month with ATP campaign activities.
A post titled “ARVIS and RINOpoacher” draws a connection between a now-defunct website domain once registered to LeFler and the “Average Republican Vote Index Score,” or "ARVIS,” chart contained in the documents revealed by the Great Falls Tribune last month.
ARVIS is a score developed by the Republican Legislative Leadership Committee and applied to each legislative district. The number indicates how likely voters in that district are to elect a Republican candidate in the general election. The ARVIS number is based primarily on the voting history of the district in presidential elections since most voters vote their own party in presidential races. (Democrats have a similar number for determining their party’s strength in a district called the “DPQ,” which stands for “Democratic Performance Quotient.)
An ARVIS number 50 or more means there is a greater than 50 percent chance that voters will elect a Republican in that legislative district in the general election. Republicans have used the ARVIS rating system to identify "safe Republican," "lean Republican," "lean Democrat" and "safe Democratic" districts. During election cycles the party uses the ARVIS information to determine how to allocate financial resources in those races that might be competitive in a general election.
This undated spreadsheet was contained in the packet of emails between Senate President Jeff Essmann, Sen. Majority Leader Art Wittich, Sen. Majority Whip Frederick "Eric" Moore, Sen. Dave Lewis, and Sen. Ed Walker.
The documents showed how key members of the Senate Republican caucus, including the current leadership team, began plotting their power play as early as September of last year.
Priest told me in an interview that the "Senate Policy Committee" is the name members of the current leadership team uses to refer to themselves and their supporters in the Senate GOP caucus.
According to ATPExposed.com:
The two columns on the left contain the names of the radicals that pledged or planned to pledge their votes to the Essman and Wittich hardline ticket. The two columns on the right contain the names of the legislators that refused to adopt this extremist agenda. The top two rows contain safe Republican seats. The bottom two rows contain swing and liberal seats.
Reagan Republicans in safe conservative seats didn’t pledge themselves to the hardline ticket should look at Bruce Tutvedt as a cautionary tale. ATP and their shell groups backed out of state carpetbagger Rollan Roberts II. Roberts had only been in Montana for two years before he took on lifetime Flathead resident Tutvedt.
So did Senate GOP leaders use their party’s internal ARVIS rating system to identify which incumbent Republicans who did not support the Essmann/Wittich ticket could be defeated in a primary? Was that information shared with dark money groups?
Last month I asked Priest, Wittich and Essmann about the apparent connection between the ARVIS list and GOP legislators who faced primary challenges -- and in some cases were targeted by dark money spending. The three lawmakers said the ARVIS list referred to the general election cycle and had nothing to do with primaries.
Essmann said he did not coordinate with any third-party groups on any Republican primary campaigns.
Wittich said he “didn’t think” he coordinated with any third party groups.
“Did we participate in primaries? I think I was asked about various primaries but I don’t know about third party groups getting involved with it,” Wittich said.
Wittich said supported Kalispell Republican Sen. Bruce Tutvedt’s opponent but he said he did not coordinate with ATP.
It’s worth noting that Wittich’s law firm is listed with the Montana Secretary of State’s office as Western Tradition Partnership’s (ATP’s earlier incarnation) registered agent. According to records filed at the Montana Commissioner of Political practices, WTP paid Wittich’s firm at least $9,000 in 2010. Wittich said his firm represented WTP on one case in 2010.
“When that case began in 2010 (WTP) was an out of state company and they needed a registered agent in Montana,” Wittich said.
ATPExposed.com promises to “reveal more of ATP’s agenda each week,” but there are no clues as to who is running the site.
Some simple Google sleuthing indicates whoever is running ATPExposed.com is tied to the anonymous Democrat blog MTStreetfighter.com. A cached version of the ATPExposed.com test page dated Jan. 23 -- before the sight was launched -- displays comments on the right hand side of the blog. Those same comments appeared here and here on the MTStreetfighter.com blog from posts dating back to Jan. 16 and and Jan. 17. Both sights also use the same WordPress blog template.
Lots of anonymity in Montana politics these days. Is this what the U.S. Supreme Court had in mind when they ruled on Citizens United? Is this the future of politics in America?