Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Ghost-written dispatches to hometown papers

It came to a Tribune reporter’s attention this week that letters attributed to two different GOP lawmakers in weekly newspaper in our area bore striking resemblances to each other.

The first letters appeared in the Glasgow Courier and the Lewistown News-Argus. A quick Internet search of portions of the text from those two op-ed columns revealed at least seven other Republican House members posted nearly identical letters on their Facebook pages or submitted op-eds containing all or parts of the same letters.

Lang letterOsmundson letter

The first two letters were attributed to House GOP Reps. Mike Lang, of Malta, and Ryan Osmundson, of Buffalo. Except for a few paragraphs the letters were identical.

Most of the letters start with the following text:

“As your representative in Montana’s legislature, I’ve spent the past month trying to take the views of my friends and neighbors to the state government in Helena. Here’s a report on how it’s going so far.

This week saw some exciting action on the House floor. We voted on a major package of job creation bills. We all know that Montana’s small neighborhood businesses are the people who create jobs. They hire our friends and neighbors and family members. So I voted for three bills that will make it easier for businesses to do that. They all focused on limiting litigation and workers compensation costs. When a small business spends less on liability insurance, it has more money on hand to put people to work.”

From there the letters deviate a bit. Some of the letters discussed wolf bills. Others expounded on corner crossing legislation. Some discussed school choice. Most of the letters contained a paragraph or two specific to the legislator, but aside from that they appear to all be written by the same person or persons.

Plug the first sentence of those two columns into a search engine and you’ll find other letters showing up in small town papers and on lawmakers’ Facebook pages.

Smaller weekly papers typically have limited Web presences, so it’s possible the letters are appearing in small papers throughout the state.

Max Hunsaker, a spokesman for the House GOP caucus, said it’s not uncommon for party staff to craft such letters for lawmakers.

“Obviously our staff prepares a letter draft that many members then customize for their own use,” Husaker said in an email. “It's not unusual for staff to play a role in preparing written messages for elected officials. I doubt that Gov. Bullock or Sen. Baucus personally write each piece published under their names.”

That’s true. Most statewide elected officials do have staff who write communications, speeches, emails, etc. on their behalf.

However, I can’t recall an example of Sen. Baucus and Sen. Jon Tester submitting the identical op-ed and claiming it as their own.

You can read some of the other letters we found:

Rep. Greg Hertz, R-Polson

Rep. Wylie Galt, R-Martinsdale

More examples:

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