Thursday, January 31, 2013

Reporter’s Notebook: Observations on Gov. Bullock’s first big speech

faldc5-68llabfj5es1j1gr7ii9_originalWednesday night’s State of the State address was an interesting evening at the Capitol. It was the first time since I began covering Montana politics that a governor other than Brian Schweitzer was on the big stage, and I wasn’t sure what to expect.

The State of the State is a major event for a Montana governor. The address is broadcast live statewide on Montana PBS and Montana Public Radio, and just about every TV station, radio station and newspaper in the state covers the event.

Many of us in the Capitol press corps admitted prior to the speech we were unsure of how Bullock would do in his first-ever State of the State. After all, he’s following in the footsteps of one of the best orators many of us have ever seen in Montana. Former Gov. Brian Schweitzer wasn’t popular with everyone – particularly Republicans, whom Schweitzer needled at every turn – but at the end of the day nobody could argue the man’s ability to work a crowd.

Bullock brings a much different style to the governor’s office. As he pointed out in his speech, just three weeks in to his term as governor he’s “already been trying to change the tone in the halls of this building.”

While he didn’t mention Schweitzer by name, Bullock’s message on that point was clear: “I’m not Brian Schweitzer.”

The consensus among most people I talked to after the speech was that Bullock did a great job. It was a strong speech and it was masterfully delivered. Even many Republicans said they liked the speech, though they didn’t like all the spending proposals Bullock rolled out.

My first thought after he finished the address was this:

“This guy showed us tonight he is the governor.”

Observations from the floor

The press corps is mostly relegated to the east side of the House floor during speeches like this, which means we’re stationed along the GOP’s side of the aisle. That’s always an interesting place to be during a speech delivered by a Democrat. When the big applause lines come, we all watch to see which Republicans clap or stand and which Republicans keep their arms crossed tightly over their chests. faldc5-68llcnso06vsa5vzii9_original

I paid keen attention to a standing ovation that came when Bullock blasted the rise of dark money groups that “target candidates and refuse to tell the voting public who they really are and what they really represent.”

“They hide behind made-up names and made-up newspapers. They operate out of P.O. Boxes or Washington, D.C. office buildings. They falsely proclaim themselves the guardians of Montana’s traditions.

These groups believe they can violate our laws and corrupt our government in order to create a system that benefits their special interests.

Montanans deserve better.”

At that point the House floor erupted with the cheers and applause from Democrats and a handful of enthusiastic Republicans.  Without having a clear view of the entire floor I can’t say for certain which Republicans stood  and cheered and which ones sat on their hands, but it was a moment many of us talked about after the speech. If anyone can produce video of that particular applause line that shows the entire House floor it would certainly been an interesting study.

Another point that stood out to me was when Bullock talked about returning from the airport after having greeted troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to find out a Legislative committee had cut funding for “wrap-around” services that would make it easier for returning soldiers to attend universities.

“I urge you to restore these funds, live up to the promises we’ve made and welcome these warriors home with more than just words,” Bullock said.

At that point Democrats jumped to their feet and most of the Republican side of the aisle joined them. However, in front of me one Republican Senator remained firmly planted in her seat, not clapping. As another Senator looked over at her and said something she shook her head and said, “I’m not clapping for that.”

All-in-all Bullock did a good job of defining his policy agenda and laying down markers for the next three months of the Legislative session. He’s going to push for more spending on education. He wants a fix to the state pension system that “honors the commitment to Montana’s public servants.” He’s going to continue to push for his proposed $400 homeowner tax rebate. He wants to expand Medicaid. And he wants campaign finance reform that gets dark money out of politics.

How much of that agenda he will get accomplished remains to be seen as the Republican-dominated Legislature continues to chip away at spending proposals and bring their own policy agendas to bear on the state budget, namely, reducing Montana’s reliance on federal dollars.

Bullock, however, seemed sincere in his desire and willingness to work with GOP lawmakers going forward.

“We need each other if we’re going to make progress,” Bullock told members of the House and Senate.

The only words that rang truer were Bullock’s closing thoughts:

“At the end of any one of our terms. . . yours or mine. . . we will be measured by the progress we have made. And the true measure will be taken not by the politicians or pundits, but by our children. Let us not forget that it is to them we are most accountable.”

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

GOP Response to State of the State visualized

Culbertson Republican Rep. Austin Knudsen delivered the GOP’s response to Gov. Steve Bullock’s state of the state address.  Here’s the word cloud for that speech, based on the prepared remarks, for your viewing enjoyment.

Gov. Steve Bullock’s State of the State visualized

Bullock Word CloudA word cloud is text data visualized. The above word cloud was generated from the written prepared text of Gov. Steve Bullock’s first State of the State address.

Bullock, who was elected in November, called on lawmakers to work with him to “invest in education,” “create better jobs” in order to “attract businesses” to invest in Montana.

I think word clouds are kinda nifty because they give readers an opportunity to visualize the main points, or themes, of large volumes of text. In this case, Gov. Bullock’s speech.

As you can see in short section cut-and-pasted from Bullock’s prepared speech, the word cloud does a good job highlighting Gov. Bullock’s stated priorities:

Members of the 63rd Legislature, I ask you to join me.  What I ask of you tonight is simple and straightforward: 

First, be responsible with our budget, because I won’t allow you to spend more than we take in or make cuts that undermine our long-term stability.

Second, join me in focusing on creating jobs, investing in education, and making government more effective; and

Lastly, act in a manner that we’re not ashamed to have our children watching… because they are.

I am taking these principles to heart, and we’ve hit the ground running to create better jobs, better schools and a more effective government.

Mouse over the word cloud below to see larger versions of the words. Play around with it. What do you notice? What trends or themes pop out to you?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

“Corporal Punishment” bill raises eyebrows

Rep. Jerry O’Neil, R-Columbia Falls, has a bill that would allow criminal defendants to bargain with a judge for corporal punishment in lieu of time behind bars.

You read that right.

Spanking instead of jail time.

I heard about this bill a couple weeks ago but hadn’t seen actual language until it started making the rounds on Facebook today.

According to the bill (which you can read here):

"…a person convicted of any offense by a court in this state, whether a misdemeanor or felony, may during a sentencing hearing as provided in 46-18-115 bargain with the court for the  imposition of corporal punishment in lieu of or to reduce the term of any sentence of incarceration available to the court for imposition.”

“The court and the person convicted of an offense shall negotiate the exact nature of the corporal punishment to be imposed, which must be commensurate with the severity, nature, and degree of the harm caused by the offender. If the court and the offender cannot agree on the exact nature of the corporal punishment to be imposed, the court shall impose a sentence as provided in 46-18-201.”

“The imposition of a sentence under this section must be carried out by the sheriff of the county in which the crime occurred if the sentence for corporal punishment reduced or eliminated the term of incarceration in the county jail or by the department of corrections if the sentence reduced or eliminated the term of incarceration in the state prison. Any imposition of sentence pursuant to this section must be carried out within a reasonable time.”

The measure is already raising eyebrows and is sure to catch the attention of those on the lookout for “bat crap crazy” legislation this session. Republican leadership has been doing its best to tamp down any potential bills the other side might use to embarrass the GOP as they work to craft a budget. This one apparently didn’t get tamped.

As one Facebook commenter quipped: “Is Jerry O'Neill pandering to the masochist criminal lobby? I didn't even know that lobby existed.”

The bill was marked “ready for delivery” today but hasn’t yet been assigned to a committee. I’lll be sure to keep you posted.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

House, Senate leaders name special joint committee to address pension shortfall

Sen.President Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, and House Speaker Mark Blasdel, R-Somers, named eight Republicans and four Democrats to a joint-select committee on pensions. Sen. Dave Lewis, R-Helena, will chair the committee.

According to the leaders, the bi-partisan committee will be tasked with developing ideas and solutions to address Montana’s state pension shortfall.

“Our state pension shortfall is a real problem, that’s why it is critical for us to come together to find a solution,” Essmann said. “We need a solution that will allow us to keep the promises we have made to our public employees, provide fairness to future employees, and be responsible and fair to Montana taxpayers.

Blasdel said addressing the shortfall in Montana's state pension fund is one of the Legislature’s biggest jobs this session.

“Working on the problem through a joint bipartisan subcommittee is a good way of making sure we're focusing on work, not on politics,” Blasdel said.

Sen. Minority Leader Jon Sesso, D-Butte, called the committee “a good step forward,” but he lamented the fact that more Democrats weren’t on the committee.

“We would have preferred a couple more seats at the table, to reflect the true makeup of the 63rd Legislature,” Sesso said. “Regardless, the Democrats appointed to have a good working knowledge of the issue are prepared to make significant contributions to craft a fair, workable solution to the problem.”

The Joint-Select Committee will meet Tuesdays and Thursdays. According to lawmakers the committee will engage stakeholders and members of the public in an effort to thoroughly understand the challenges facing Montana’s public employees pension funds.

Members of the Joint-Select Committee on Pensions include:

Sen. Dave Lewis (R) - Chairman
Sen. Chas Vincent (R)
Sen. Ron Arthun (R)
Sen. Scott Sales (R)
Sen. Larry Jent (D)
Sen. Tom Facey (D)
Rep. Rob Cook (R)
Rep. Carl Glimm (R)
Rep. Bill McChesney (D)
Rep. Joanne Blyton (R)
Rep. Keith Regier (R)
Rep. Kathy Swanson (D)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Watchdog groups call on IRS to investigate ATP

Two campaign finance watchdog groups are calling on the IRS to investigate American Tradition Partnership, the “dark money” group at the center of a ProPublica/Frontline investigation last fall.

According to the letter from the watchdog groups:

“…the apparently false information included misrepresentations made to the IRS by WRP in urging expedited approval of its application and misrepresentations in its application to the IRS, asserting that it would not participate or intervene in elections.”

According to Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer:

“This is yet another case where a group apparently has claimed status as a section 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organization in order to keep secret from the American people the donors financing its campaign activities. According to news reports published by ProPublica and Frontline, American Tradition Partnership (ATP) appears to have knowingly misled the IRS about its campaign activities and knowingly submitted false information to the IRS to obtain its tax-exempt status on an expedited basis.”

The groups are calling on the IRS to investigate and “take appropriate action against ATP.”

According to the letter submitted to the IRS Tuesday, WTP submitted its Form 1024, Application for Recognition of Exemption under Section 501(a), to the IRS on July 21, 2008.

A report by ProPublica and Frontline found that WTP submitted a letter to the IRS on September 29, 2008, while their IRS application was still pending, requesting that the IRS expedite processing of its application. According to the report, the request for expedition stated that Jacob Jabs, who was described as the organization’s “primary donor,” had promised to make a $300,000 donation to the group but only if WTP received recognition from the IRS for tax-exempt status by September 29, 2008. Id.

The letter from the watchdog groups continued:

The letter further said, however, that Jabs had extended his deadline, and said he “will give us the grant if we receive our tax exempt status by October 15, 2008.  If we have not received our tax exempt status by this date, Mr. Jabs has assured us that he will no longer contribute said amount and instead will direct his donation to other organizations.”

According to the ProPublica/Frontline report, the IRS responded to WTP the next day, Sept. 30, 2008, and said that the request for expedited consideration would be granted.  Tax-exempt status as a section 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organization was granted to WTP two days later on Oct. 2, 2008.

A subsequent  ProPublica and Frontline report on Oct. 30 2012, said Jabs later said “he had never pledged money to the group, and never even been in contract with them until press stories appeared naming him.” 

The ProPublica/Frontline story states:

“I think they just grabbed my name out of a hat to forward their agenda,” Jabs told us.  “I know nothing about the group, never heard of them, never have heard of them until the last few days, and I did not, absolutely did not, commit $300,000 to start this company.” (Jabs also spoke with the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, again denying any connection to the group.)

A subsequent release of WTP’s bank records as a result of state court litigation in Montana “show[ed] no money came in from the man WTP claimed as its primary donor when it asked the IRS to expedite the approval of its application,” ProPublica/Frontline reported.

According to the letter:

Assuming the ProPublica/Frontline reports are correct, the IRS agreed to expedited processing of WTP’s application for tax-exempt status that resulted in its approval, based on apparent material fraudulent information that WTP provided to the IRS and that WTP had to know was false.

On these grounds alone, the section 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status of WTP should be revoked and the IRS should consider what, if any, other actions it should take against WTP.  The IRS should also forward any relevant information in this case to the Department of Justice so the Department can determine what, if any, action it should take against WTP for apparently submitting material false information to a federal agency in order to obtain action by the agency.

You can read the entire press release and the letter here.

Your Updated #MTLeg social calendar

Thursday, January 10, 2013

VIDEO: Baucus defends tax breaks in ‘cliff’ deal

Sen. Max Baucus brushed off recent criticism over billions of dollars in corporate tax breaks contained in the so-called “fiscal cliff” deal passed by Congress last week.

Speaking to members of the press following his address to the 2013 Montana Legislature, Baucus said the package of tax cuts -- which was approved last August by the bipartisan Senate Finance Committee included in the fiscal cliff deal – also eliminated “tens of billions of dollars” of tax credit “extenders,” which are legislative extensions of soon-to-expire laws.

“Frankly I was pretty proud of myself,” Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said Thursday. “Congress was basically totally dysfunctional on this general subject, so I got the committee together and I said ‘OK, everybody here, Republicans and Democrats, lets work together…we have to get rid of some of these. It’s deadwood. It’s wasteful.’”

(Full video at the bottom of this post).

The package of extenders inserted by the White House into the fiscal cliff bill contained 52 tax break extensions for corporations totaling $64 billion. Some of the tax breaks went to specific companies such GE, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, JPMorgan Chase, and NASCAR. Another tax break benefits rum producers in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“Now to be honest there were a couple in there I was not happy with,” Baucus said. “One that’s come out in the press quite frankly I’m not very happy with and I don’t know how it got in there. And I made that view known to my office.”

Baucus said the committee passed the measure on a bi-partisan 19-5 vote.  Baucus said the  measure eliminated 20 tax breaks that were scheduled for extensions for a savings of about $30 billion to taxpayers. A spokeswoman for Baucus said the overall measure contained many provisions which saved Montanans money.

“Max’s number one focus was making sure taxes didn’t go up for Montana families and small businesses because of tax cuts that were set to expire, and he worked with both Republicans and Democrats to put together a bill that could get enough support from both parties to make sure that didn’t happen,” Baucus spokeswoman Jennifer Donohue said in a statement Thursday.

Baucus has come under fire in some quarters after Washington Examiner columnist Timothy Carney pointed out that many of the corporations that benefited from the tax breaks employ lobbyists with close ties to Baucus to lobby.

“Pick any one of the special-interest tax breaks extended by the cliff deal, and you're likely to find a former Baucus aide who lobbied for it on behalf of a large corporation or industry organization,” Carney wrote in his Sunday column.
Carney pointed out that former Baucus chief of staff Peter Prowitt is the in-house lobbyists and an executive for GE and was on the lobbying team that won some of the tax credits.
“Two weeks before the Finance Committee hearing during which the bill was hashed out, GE's political action committee topped off its contributions to Baucus' Glacier PAC with a $2,000 check, according to the PAC's federal filings. This brought GE's contributions to Baucus' PAC to the legal maximum of $10,000 for the election cycle.”

Baucus’ former political advisor, Shannon Finley, lobbied on behalf of the American Wind Energy Association, “which lead the effort to extend a wind tax credit,” Carney wrote. Finley also represented Beam Inc., on the rum tax break.

According to Carney, former Baucus tax policy advisor Patrick Heck lobbied on behalf of Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which received a railroad maintenance tax credit, and Michael Evans, Baucus’ former legislative director, lobbied for clients who benefitted from a biofuels tax credit.

Asked Thursday about the connection between his former staffers and recipients of the extended tax breaks, Baucus said: “the main thing is to just keep our eye on the ball.”

“This is legislation which permanently prevented income tax increases on virtually all Montanans,” Baucus said. “This is legislation that permanently raised exemptions for the estate tax so that Montana farmers ranchers and family-owned companies like auto dealerships can be guaranteed there will be no increase in federal estate taxes that jeopardize their operations.”

Baucus said he goal is to get rid of as many extenders as possible in the coming year.

“I’m hopeful that during tax reform this next year we’ll be able to get rid of even more,” Baucus said.

Some of the extenders Baucus supported include:

· Deductions for college tuition and fees. According to Baucus’ office, about 2 million Americans and nearly 6,000 Montanans used that deduction in 2010 (the most recent IRS data).

· Deductions for teachers who buy classroom supplies out of their own pockets. According to Baucus’ office, 3.7 million teachers nationwide and nearly 11,000 Montana teachers relied on the deduction in 2010 (the most recent IRS data).

· Tax credits for businesses that hire new workers. And specific tax credits for businesses that hire unemployed veterans and tax credits for employers who make up the salary difference for Guard and Reserve members who are called to deploy.

· Expensing provisions that allow small businesses to write off the full costs capital investments in the first year instead of breaking over a longer period of time – up to 39.5 years.

· The research and development tax credit, which Baucus’ office said “allows businesses to invest in innovation and stay competitive.”

· A production tax credit that supports wind farm projects including the Rim Rock Wind farm in Glacier and Toole Counties and the Shawmut Wind Farm. “Nearly 1,500 Montana jobs have been supported by the Production Tax Credit,” according to Baucus’ office.

· Charitable deduction for farmers and ranchers who allow easements on their land for conservation purposes.

Here’s the full video from Baucus’ interview with Montana press at the Capitol:

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Lowdown Exclusive: The #MTLeg Social Calendar is back!


Back for 2013 the Lowdown will regularly publish the Legislature’s calendar of special interests-sponsored social events, dinners and mixers.

In 2009 Democratic House Speaker Bob Bergren ordered the social calendar posted on the website, making the calendar available to the general public for the first time.

That practice ended after the 2011 session, so I began posting the calendar on the Lowdown.

This year I’ve created a public Google Calendar that will list the social events for the month. I’ll update it each Friday throughout the session. You can access it online at this link or by clicking the calendar image above.

Jailhouse suicide, concealed weapons, on Wednesday’s #MTLeg slate

Lawmakers begin hearing bills in earnest today with the Judiciary, Agriculture and Appropriations committees meeting in the House and the Judiciary committee meeting in the Senate.

The House Judiciary committee is taking up five bills this morning, including two bills aimed at addressing the problem of jailhouse suicide. One bill, HB43, by Rep. Steve Lavin, R-Kalispell, seeks to create a jail suicide prevention program in the Department of Public Health and Human Services.  A second bill, HB 69, by Rep. Margaret MacDonald, D-Billings, would create a jail suicide prevention program in the board of crime control.

You can watch the hearing live online here.

At 9 a.m. the Senate Judiciary will take up a bill sponsored by Sen. Terry Murphy, R- Cardwell, that would declare that concealed weapon permit application information “confidential criminal justice information.” You can read the text of SB 37 here. You can watch the hearing at the same link above. Just scroll down and look for the link to watch the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

At 3 p.m. the House

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

ProPublica: In Montana, Dark Money helped Democrats hold a key Senate seat


Sen. Jon Tester, right, and Rep. Denny Rehberg greet each other during their debate on Monday, Oct. 8, 2012 in Billings, Mont. (AP Photo/Billings Gazette, Casey Page)

Editor’s note: The following article, about the role dark money played in Montana’s 2012 U.S. Senate, race is published in its entirety by permission of ProPublica.

by Kim Barker ProPublica

In the waning days of Montana's hotly contested Senate race, a small outfit called Montana Hunters and Anglers, launched by liberal activists, tried something drastic.

It didn't buy ads supporting the incumbent Democrat, Sen. Jon Tester. Instead, it put up radio and TV commercials that urged voters to choose the third-party candidate, libertarian Dan Cox, describing Cox as the "real conservative" or the "true conservative."

Where did the group's money come from? Nobody knows.

faldc5-67flskfo3yt1dh1r3o6j_originalThe pro-Cox ads were part of a national pattern in which groups that did not disclose their donors, including social welfare nonprofits and trade associations, played a larger role than ever before in trying to sway U.S. elections. Throughout the 2012 election, ProPublica has focused on the growing importance of this so-called dark money in national and local races.

Such spending played a greater role in the Montana Senate race than almost any other. With control of the U.S. Senate potentially at stake, candidates, parties and independent groups spent more than $51 million on this contest, all to win over fewer than 500,000 voters. That's twice as much as was spent when Tester was elected in 2006.

Almost one quarter of that was dark money, donated secretly to nonprofits.

FALBrd_12-31-2012_Tribune_1_A001~~2012~12~30~IMG_-11272012_Gov_Schwei_1_1_5832MNNO~IMG_-11272012_Gov_Schwei_1_1_5832MNNO"It just seems so out of place here," said Democrat Brian Schweitzer, the former governor of Montana who left office Monday. "About one hundred dollars spent for every person who cast a vote. Pretty spectacular, huh? And most of it, we don't have any idea where it came from. Day after the election, they closed up shop and disappeared into the dark."

Political insiders say the Montana Senate race provided a particularly telling glimpse at how campaigns are run in the no-holds-barred climate created by the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, giving a real-world counterpoint to the court's assertion that voters could learn all they needed to know about campaign funding from disclosure.

In many ways, Montana was a microcosm of how outside spending worked nationally, but it also points to the future. Candidates will be forced to start raising money earlier to compete in an arms race with outside groups. Voters will be bombarded with TV ads, mailers and phone calls. And then on Election Day, they will be largely left in the dark, unable to determine who's behind which message.

All told, 64 outside groups poured $21 million into the Montana Senate election, almost as much as the candidates. Party committees spent another $8.9 million on the race.

The groups started spending money a year before either candidate put up a TV ad, defining the issues and marginalizing the role of political parties. In a state where ads were cheap, they took to the airwaves. More TV commercials ran in the Montana race between June and the election than in any other Senate contest nationwide.

The Montana Senate race also shows how liberal groups have learned to play the outside money game u2014 despite griping by Democratic officials about the influence of such organizations.

Liberal outside groups spent $10.2 million on the race, almost as much as conservatives. Conservatives spent almost twice as much from anonymous donors, but the $4.2 million in dark money that liberal groups pumped into Montana significantly outstripped the left's spending in many other races nationwide.

As in other key states, conservative groups devoted the bulk of their money in Montana to TV and radio ads. But sometimes the ads came across as generic and missed their mark.

MessinaLiberal groups set up field offices, knocked on doors, featured "Montana" in their names or put horses in their TV ads. Many of them, including Montana Hunters and Anglers, were tied to a consultancy firm where a good friend of Jim Messina, President Barack Obama's campaign manager, is a partner.

The end result? Tester beat Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg by a narrow margin. And the libertarian Cox, who had so little money he didn't even have to report to federal election authorities, picked up more votes than any other libertarian in a competitive race on the Montana ballot.

Montana Republicans blamed Montana Hunters and Anglers,  made up of a super PAC and a sister dark money nonprofit, for tipping the race. Even though super PACs have to report their MOntana Hunters and Anglers 001donors, the Montana Hunters and Anglers super PAC functioned almost like a dark money group. Records show its major donors included an environmentalist group that didn't report its donors and two super PACs that in turn raised the bulk of their money from the environmentalist group, other dark money groups and unions.

"Part of what's frustrating to me is I look at Montana Hunters and Anglers and say, 'That is not fair,'" said Bowen Greenwood, executive director for the Montana Republican Party. "I am a hunter. I know plenty of hunters. And Montana hunters don't have their positions. It would be fairer if it was called Montana Environmental Activists. That would change the effect of their ads."

Cox and Tester deny the group's efforts swung the race. No one from Montana Hunters and Anglers returned calls for comment.

Tester, who's argued that all groups spending on elections should disclose their donors and also pushed against super PACs, said he wasn't familiar with any of the outside groups running ads. By law, candidates are not allowed to coordinate with outside spending groups, which are supposed to be independent.

Despite his ambivalence, he said he was glad the outside groups jumped in.

"If we wouldn't have had folks come in on our side, it would have been much tougher to keep a message out there," Tester said. "We had no control over what they were saying. But by the same token, I think probably in the end if you look at it, they were helpful."

* * *

Montana has long prided itself on a refusal to be pigeonholed. It's the kind of place that votes Republican for president but elects Democrats to state office. Politicians wear bolo ties, tout their Montana credentials and use words like "hell" and "crap." People introduce themselves by saying what generation Montanan they are.

Consistently, the state fights against any mandate that smacks of Washington meddling, from the federal speed limit to the Citizens United ruling in early 2010, which opened the door to corporations and unions spending unlimited money on independent ads, echoing an earlier court ruling that equated money with free speech.

Before that, Montana had one of the country's toughest campaign finance laws, dating back 100 years, to the time of the copper kings. After one of those kings bribed state lawmakers to back him as senator, the state banned corporate political spending.

Even after Citizens United, the Montana Supreme Court insisted that Montana's legacy of corruption justified keeping the ban. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court squashed that move, saying the Citizens United decision applied to every state in the nation.

By then, dark money groups were already weighing in on Montana's Senate race.

The TV ads started in March 2011, the month after Rehberg announced. The Environmental Defense Action Fund attacked Rehberg for his stance on mercury emissions. The Electronic Payments Coalition praised Tester for his push to delay implementing new debit-card swipe fees.

Political science faculty David C.W. Parker, Ph.D.
MSU photo by Kelly Gorham."The thing that surprised me a little bit was how early they got involved," said David Parker, an associate professor of political science at Montana State University who tracked all 160 TV commercials as part of a book he is writing on the race. "And I think that was critical, because very early on, they were able to establish the contours of this race. The candidates were just busy putting their organizations together and raising money."

Most of the money spent in 2011 on TV ads came from groups that didn't have to report their donors. They also didn't have to report their ads to the Federal Election Commission, because they didn't specifically tell voters to vote for or against a candidate. Instead of saying "Vote for Rehberg," they said things like "Call Jon Tester. Tell him to stop supporting President Barack Obama." Ads like that only have to be reported to the FEC if they air during the two months before an election.

The only way to compile data on such ad spending is by visiting TV stations, which Parker did. ProPublica helped him collect information on the last round of ads.

Parker's data shows that several heavyweight conservative groups entered the fray in mid-2011 to try to cast Tester, whom they saw as vulnerable, as a big spender.

Crossroads GPS, the dark money group launched by GOP strategist Karl Rove, ran two ads in July 2011 similar to those attacking Democrats in other states for supporting excessive spending.

Also that month, a conservative group called Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee ran a sarcastic ad about a new miracle drug called "Spenditol," Washington's answer to America's problems. "Call Sen. Jon Tester," the ad said. "Tell him, stop spending it all." Similar ads ran against Democratic senators up for election in tight races in Florida, Nebraska and Ohio.

Several ads run by conservative groups backfired, messing up in ways that irked Montanans.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee u2014 a party committee that reports its donors u2014 ran an ad that appeared to show Tester with all five digits on his left hand. (Tester is well known for having lost three fingers in a childhood accident involving a meat grinder.) The U.S. Chamber of Commerce misspelled Tester's first name. A Montana cable operator yanked a Crossroads ad for claims the operator deemed false.

"The first one that burned me really bad was from the U.S. Chamber," said Verner Bertelsen, a former Republican state legislator and Montana secretary of state. "I thought u2014 you buggers! We don't need you to come in here and tell us who to vote for."

Starting in July 2011, three new liberal dark money groups ran ads. Patriot Majority USA criticized Republicans for allegedly planning to cut Medicare and help to seniors. The Partnership to Protect Medicare praised Tester for opposing Medicare cuts.

268131_2040583570014_5629530_nAnd in October, weeks after forming, the dark money side of Montana Hunters and Anglers, Montana Hunters and Anglers Action!, launched its first TV ad, starring Land Tawney, the group's gap-toothed and camouflage-sporting president, who also served on the Sportsmen's Advisory Panel for Tester. At the time, the super PAC side of the group was basically dormant.

The new Hunters ad accused Rehberg of pushing a bill u2014 House bill 1505 u2014 that supposedly would give Washington politicians control of access to public lands in Montana. Rehberg, one of 60 cosponsors, argued the legislation was necessary to help the Department of Homeland Security protect the state from illegal immigrants, drug smugglers and terrorists.

"Nobody in Montana was talking about that bill," Greenwood said. "I've only heard it talked about in campaign ads. And it played a role throughout the election."

* * *

The gusher of outside money into Montana's Senate race was part of a larger pattern. Nationally, in addition to the $5.1 billion spent by candidates and parties, almost 700 outside spending groups dumped more than $1 billion into federal elections in the 2012 cycle, FEC filings show.

Of that, about $322 million was dark money, most of it from 153 social welfare nonprofits, groups that could spend money on politics as long as social welfare u2014 not politics u2014 was their primary purpose.

Relating those numbers to previous elections is a largely pointless exercise, akin to comparing statistics from baseball and lacrosse. The Citizens United ruling changed the game, opening the door to unlimited corporate donations to super PACs and to a new breed of more politically active nonprofits.

"Instead of being in a boxing match in a ring, you're in a dark alley being hit by four or five people, and you don't know who they are," said Michael Sargeant, the executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which helps Democrats run for state offices.

Some of the players in the 2012 cycle were longtime activist organizations such as the liberal Sierra Club and the conservative National Right to Life Committee, with clear social welfare missions and only a limited amount of political spending. Other dark money groups were juggernauts like Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity, founded years ago by conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, which crank up their fundraising during election years and devote more money to election ads than other nonprofits.

Finding out about some of the less prominent nonprofits was no easy feat. Many were formed out of post-office boxes or law firms. On their applications to the Internal Revenue Service, they minimized or even denied any political activity.

Documents for pop-up nonprofits like the conservative America Is Not Stupid and A Better America Now, both of which formed in 2011, led back to a Florida law firm that offered no explanations. The Citizens for Strength and Security Action Fund, a liberal pop-up group that spent millions on elections in 2010, closed down in 2011. In its place came a new group: the Citizens for Strength and Security Fund, which earlier this year bought almost $900,000 in ads attacking Rehberg and the Republican Senate candidate in New Mexico.

Groups picked names that seemed designed to confuse: Patriot Majority USA is liberal. Patriotic Veterans is conservative. Common Sense Issues backed conservatives. Common Sense Movement backed a Democrat.

As in the 2010 midterms, the dark money spent in 2012 had a partisan tilt. Conservative groups accounted for about 84 percent of the spending reported to the FEC u2014 mainly through Crossroads GPS, Americans for Prosperity and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Liberal groups spent 12 percent of the dark money. Nonpartisan groups made up the rest.

Despite shelling out hundreds of millions of dollars, conservatives lost big. Only about 14 percent of conservative dark money went to support winners.

Still, campaign-finance reformers say it's a mistake to minimize the influence of this money.

"What these donors were buying was access and influence, not only to the candidates but to the party machine," said Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel for the Campaign Legal Center. "And they will get that access. On the Republican side, you have people lining up to kiss the ring of (billionaire donor) Sheldon Adelson. And on the Democratic side, you have even people critical of these groups meeting with the funders of these groups. This money is not going away."

Even though liberal groups spent far less than conservative ones, they had a higher success rate. About 70 percent backed winning candidates.

Some Democrats have shown distaste for the dark-money arts, pushing for more transparency. But liberal strategists are preparing to ramp up their efforts before the next election, unless the IRS, Congress or the courts change the rules.

"We probably have a lot less comfort with some of the existing rules that allow for the Koch brothers to write unlimited checks to these groups," said Navin Nayak, the senior vice president for campaigns at the League of Conservation Voters, a liberal social welfare nonprofit for more than 40 years. "But as long as these are the rules, we're certainly going do our best to make sure we're competitive and that our candidates have a shot at winning. We're certainly not going to cede the playing field to the Koch brothers."

* * *

By the time Tester and Rehberg started buying TV ads, outside groups had been defining the race for a year.

Rehberg, 57, a six-term congressman and rancher often pictured wearing a cowboy hat and a plaid shirt, was portrayed as voting five times to increase his pay and charging an SUV to taxpayers. Tester, 56, a farmer with a flat top, was dinged for voting with Obama 95 percent of the time.

Tester's campaign went up with ads in March, mainly to counter the outside messages.

"The original plans were going up 60 or 90 days later than that," Tester said. "But it was important...We had to remind people of who I am."

His early ads highlighted his Montana roots, depicting him riding a combine on his farm and packing up Montana beef to carry back to Washington.

Rehberg had less money, so his earliest TV ads, which mainly attacked Tester, went up in May.

Neither Rehberg nor anyone from his media staff responded to requests for an interview on his views on campaign finance. In the past, he has said he supports the Citizens United ruling.

Meanwhile, conservative groups bought TV ads that hit at Tester but stopped just short of telling people how to vote. For instance, the conservative 60 Plus Association spent almost $500,000 buying TV ads featuring crooner Pat Boone criticizing Tester over the health care law. None of that was reported to the FEC.

Over the summer, the Concerned Women for America's legislative committee, Crossroads GPS and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce all weighed in. The TV spots were overwhelmingly negative, and many of them were cookie-cutter ads, similar to those that ran in other states against Democrats.

Liberal groups bought TV ads, too, but that was only part of their game plan. They spent their dark money on retail politics, hitting the streets and knocking on doors.

In January, the League of Conservation Voters set up two offices in Montana u2014 one in Missoula and one in Billings. It canvassed voters and hired a full-time organizer, reaching out to 28,000 sporadic voters to urge them to vote early by mail.

Lindsay Love, the spokeswoman at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana, another nonprofit that doesn't report its donors for election spending, said the group targeted 41,000 female voters. More than 1,500 people ended up knocking on 28,500 doors and making 162,000 phone calls, she said. The group sent out about 470,000 pieces of mail.

"It's hard to unpack this," Parker said. "But it's fascinating to look at groups like the League, unions and Planned Parenthood. By and large, they did phones, canvassing, mail, very little TV. One of the best ways to get out the vote is personalized contact."

Many liberal groups active in Montana, including Montana Hunters and Anglers, were connected through Hilltop Public Solutions, a Beltway consulting firm.

34054_471032074045_3085755_nBarrett Kaiser, a former aide to Montana's other Democratic senator, Max Baucus, is a partner at Hilltop and runs its office in Billings. The Hilltop website notes that Kaiser helped with Tester's upset Senate win in 2006. Kaiser is also a good friend of Messina, the manager of Obama's 2012 campaign, who also once worked for Baucus.

Kaiser was on the board of the Montana Hunters and Anglers dark money group. Another Hilltop employee in Billings served as the treasurer for the Montana Hunters and Anglers super PAC.

Hilltop partners in Washington also helped run two other dark money groups that spent money on the Montana race: the Citizens for Strength and Security Fund and the Partnership to Protect Medicare.

The League of Conservation Voters and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana paid management fees to Hilltop.

No one from Hilltop returned calls, but Nayak and Love said they worked with Hilltop independently of other groups.

Outside groups are allowed to coordinate with each other or use the same consultants u2014 they're just not allowed to coordinate with a candidate. By working together, groups can disguise who is actually behind an ad.

In early July, for instance, the League of Conservation Voters gave $410,000 to the Montana Hunters and Anglers super PAC u2014 almost all the money the group raised as of that date.

When the super PAC spent the money on TV ads against Rehberg later that month, the spots were paid for by what appeared to be an organization of Montana hunters, not some Washington-based conservationist group. Nayak said that was not a coincidence.

"We figured having a local brand like that and partnering with them on local issues made more sense than having a D.C. brand," he said.

Nayak said the League did not donate money for the later ads pushing Cox, the libertarian.

It's not clear where that money came from. The dark money side of Montana Hunters and Anglers paid for the radio ads. The super PAC bought the TV ads and had to disclose its donors, but FEC filings show its money came mainly from two other super PACs, which in turn reported getting most of their money from unions and dark money groups, including the League.

* * *

As the Montana Senate race approached its climax, as many as five fliers landed in voters' mailboxes daily. Robocalls, supposedly illegal in Montana, interrupted meals. Strangers knocked on doors, promising free pizza for voting. People turned off their TVs, dumped their mail without looking at it and stopped answering the phone.

"My ex and I moved in together, because he had cancer and I took care of him," said Louise McMillin, 51, who lives in the university district in Missoula. "He kept getting polling calls as he was dying. After he died, I kept saying, 'He's dead, could you take his name off the list?' And they said, 'Sure, sure.' And they kept calling."

The race stayed tight. Demand for TV ad slots spiked, so the TV stations started raising their prices. The law required them to charge candidates their lowest rate. But outside groups? They could be hit up for whatever the market would bear.

Rehberg's campaign paid $400 to run a 30-second ad during the show Blue Bloods on Oct. 19 on the CBS affiliate in Great Falls. A week later, Crossroads GPS paid $2,000 for a slot during the same show.

Anything was fair game for the ads. One, from the super PAC Now Or Never, made fun of Tester's buzz cut, then showed his hair growing down to his shoulders, a bizarre sequence apparently designed to signal his ties to Obama. Another ad, from the dark money group America Is Not Stupid, featured a baby with a gravelly voice saying he didn't know what smelled worse, his diaper or Tester.

168089_109258875815706_7751350_n"By the middle of October, people were just so tuned out and quite frankly disgusted by all these third-party ads," said Ted Dick, the executive director of the Montana Democratic Party. "We found that face-to-face conversations toward the end were most persuasive and effective. That's the lesson we're taking forward."

There are other lessons. Tester said the Montana race made clear that candidates will have to raise money sooner, and go up with TV ads faster. Although uncomfortable with outside money, Tester also said it's just the way things are now, even on the liberal side.

"I mean, look, they did it," he said. "And with as many ads that were against me, I was glad they did. But it needs to be transparent. I mean, everybody's needs to be transparent... It's important to know who's spending money on who so you know why they're doing it. And the way the system is set up right now, there is no transparency. Very little."

Campaign finance reformers agree that knowing who is behind a message helps people assess it.

One example: Two postcards sent to thousands of Montanans just before the election didn't include the required notice saying who paid for them. One said Rehberg had wasted "hundreds of millions of our tax dollars on pork barrel projects," and urged people to vote for Cox, "a champion for fiscal responsibility." The other called Rehberg "the king of pork" and told people to vote for Cox.

Cox said he didn't send them. The bulk-mail permit on the postcards came back to a Las Vegas company called PDQ Printing, according to the U.S. Postal Service. In an online manual, PDQ describes itself as "Nevada's preeminent Union printer." No one there returned phone calls.

BowenGreenwood, the head of the Montana Republican Party, filed a complaint with the FEC over the mailers. The complaint blames liberal groups and says they "engaged in a duplicitous strategy of supporting the libertarian candidate, Dan Cox, in a desperate attempt" to siphon votes from Rehberg.

More than likely, that complaint won't be resolved for years.

Greenwood said he didn't think disclosure was a cure-all. But he also said the current system marginalized political parties.

"Whether it's Montana Hunters and Anglers or (the conservative super PAC) American Crossroads, they are not responsive to the grassroots," Greenwood said. "These are the professionals and the money men who are not responsive at all to people. The system as it is now does not reflect what people want."

Besides picking between Tester and Rehberg, Montanans got a chance in this election to say how they want the system to work. On the ballot was an initiative u2014 largely symbolic in light of recent court decisions u2014 that declared that corporations are not human beings and banned corporate money in politics.

Gov. Schweitzer, a Democrat, and Bertelsen, the former Republican secretary of state, campaigned for the initiative. In a shocker for backers, almost 75 percent of voters supported it.

faldc5-64pqupb82s3f25ke561_original"I realized it absolutely didn't have any legal basis to do anything dramatic," said Bertelsen, who is 94. "But it's a case of saying, 'We don't like it.' I guess we could just sit down and not say a word. But the Supreme Court u2014 I think they made a mistake. Money isn't speech, anyhow. It's just money."

Correction (12/27): This story originally said that the libertarian candidate Dan Cox picked up more votes than any other libertarian on the Montana ballot. He actually picked up more votes than any other libertarian in a competitive race on the Montana ballot.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Idle No More protest at the Capitol

IMG_2810Indian drummers and singers gathered on the Capitol’s south lawn on the first day of the 2013 legislative session to draw attention to the growing Idle No More movement.
The Great Falls Tribune’s Rich Peterson on Monday reported on Idle No More protests in northeastern Montana:
By holding flash mob round dances, like the ones held in Poplar and Wolf Point on Thursday and Friday, Native Americans from Canada and the United States hope to bring attention and awareness to Indian issues through the Idle No More movement. More specifically, it aims to bring attention to Canadian Bill C-45, which some Canadian activists say weakens environmental laws on Canadian Indian reserves.
Craig Pablo, of Ronan, drove to the Capitol Monday to take part in the peaceful protest as lawmakers were preparing to be sworn-in. 
“This awakening is growing steadily,” Pablo said. “This isn’t just a Canadian issue or an Indian issue. This goes beyond race or color. We all breathe the air and we all drink the water.”
April Charlo, a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes on the Flathead Indian Reservation, said the Idle No More protests are about bringing Indian tribes together in solidarity for causes important to all Indians and all Montanans.  
“This is about coming together as Indian people and and putting out differences aside and standing together,” Charlo said. “This is about showing (lawmaker) that we are here too, so don’t try to impose laws on us that are going to threaten our land or culture.”
The Idle No More movement gained international attention after Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper refused to meet with Canadian tribal governments about a bill that many Indians believed undermined keystone environmental laws.
According to Peterson’s article:
Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario began a hunger strike in the country’s capital city, Ottawa, on Dec. 11, until Harper agrees to a meeting with tribal leaders. On Friday, 24 days after her hunger strike began, the prime minister announced he would meet with her and other leaders. Spence said she would continue with the hunger strike until the meeting actually happens.
The movement has spread across the border into the U.S., and Idle No More Demonstrations have been popping across the country in an effort to elevate Indian issues.
Here’s a Raw Video clip of Indian drummers and singers performing outside the Capitol.

Montana Legislature Week 1 schedule


The 2013 Montana legislative session is upon us.

The excitement kicks off today at 10 a.m. when the statewide office holders are sworn-in on the steps of the Capitol.

Rumor has it that at 11 a.m. a group of Montana Indians are expected to arrive at the Capitol for a “flash mob” round dance to draw attention Indian issues as part of the growing “Idle No More Movement.” You can read more about Idle No More in today’s Tribune.

At noon the 2013 Legislature officially convenes and lawmakers will be sworn-in.

The rest of the weekly schedule, subject to change, is as follows:

Tuesday, Jan 8, 8 a.m. – Law School for Legislators – House Chambers

Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2 p.m. – Chair of the day training for House members – House Chambers

Wednesday, Jan. 9, 8 a.m. – Organizational Committee Meetings: House State Administration – Rm 455; House Taxation – Rm 152

Wednesday, Jan. 9, 9 a.m. – Budget presentation by Legislative Fiscal Division staff to Joint House Appropriations and Senate Finance & Claims Committees – House Chambers

Wednesday, Jan. 9, 9:30 a.m. - Organizational Committee Meeting: Joint House FRET & Senate Energy - Rm 317 - re: proposed federal changes to how Power Marketing Administrations operate

Wednesday, Jan. 9, upon adjournment of floor sessions – Rules training for all legislators – Rm 172

Thursday, Jan. 10, 1 p.m. – Senate Max Baucus will address joint legislative session upon convening of floor sessions in joint session – House Chambers

Thursday, Jan. 10, 3 p.m. - Organizational Committee Meetings: House Fish, Wildlife & Parks – Rm 152; House Local Government – Rm 172; Senate Energy – Rm 317

Friday, Jan. 11, 8 a.m. – Organizational Committee Meetings: Appropriation/Finance & Claims Subcommittees: Education – Rm 472; General Government – Rm 350; Health & Human Services – Rm 102; Judicial Branch, Law Enforcement & Justice – Rm 317A; Long-Range Planning – Rm 317B; Natural Resources & Transportation – Rm 317C

Friday, Jan. 11, 1 p.m. – Presentation of proposed legislative districting & apportionment plan presented by Justice Regnier to joint legislative session upon convening of floor sessions in joint session – House Chambers

Friday, Jan. 11, 3 p.m. – Organizational Committee Meetings: Joint House & Senate Education Committee – Common Core Informational Hearing – Rm 303; House Federal Relations, Energy & Transportation – Rm 172; House Human Services – Rm 152; Senate Natural Resources, Rm 317

Saturday, Jan. 12, upon adjournment of floor sessions - Tour of Montana State Prison & Montana Correctional Enterprises – open to all legislators - bus scheduled to leave 15 minutes after adjournment of last floor session -