Opinion

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Closing Range

More Big Bucks

Western Values Project is a dark-money front, buried deep inside the Russian-doll corporate structure of a multi-mega-dollar “charity”

Gee, I hadn’t even finished my previous column on the big buck hunters’ money-from-nowhere ad blitz against Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke when yet ANOTHER blitz pops up.

This time, as duly reported in the Beacon, the ad buy was a mere  half-million bucks — still, not too shabby for a group nobody’s ever heard of, the Whitefish-based “Western Values Project,” or WVP. Unfortunately, that’s where the reporter left things — as is typical.

Well, I’ve known of WVP since about 2013. Now, with a half-million good reasons to opine if WVP’s Facebook self-description as “a voice for the Western majority in the national conversation about energy development and public lands conservation” is true, let’s go.

To begin, WVP’s website, created in 2013, is anonymously registered through Domain Protection Services in Denver. No contact administrator, no direct phone, no actual address.

Next, WVP’s home office address is not displayed anywhere on its public website. To learn that, we must try search engines, which present a number of recent “Freedom of Information” (yep, that’s ironic) filings with the federal government: 704C East 13th Street- Suite 568.

Does that address ring a bell with you? Yep! It’s the Whitefish UPS Store! “Suite 568” is actually a $150-per-year private mail box, snugged next to a sales placard touting a “street address, not a P.O. box number.”

Is this just a struggling nonprofit trying to get by in expensive Whitefish? Hard to say, so I then poked around the Internet for either corporate registration records, or federal documentation granting WVP tax-exempt status. There are none.

Well, about WVP’s spokespersons. The “new guy” used to work in “communications” under Montana governors Steve Bullock and Brian Schweitzer, both Democrats. The other, with more output of press items, was communications director for the Montana Democratic Party, then Montana Department of Environmental Quality, a spokesman for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and is currently a board member of the Flathead Montana Conservation Voters chapter.

Do you think either of these experienced progressive public-relations workers would generate all those press releases and produce those ads for free?

Nope — so who really foots the bill and whose “Western majority” values are being voiced?

Well, we have to go back to 2013 when WVP issued its first press release, which reads (way at the bottom) that WVP “receives financial support from New Venture Fund.”

Again, readers, but not reporters, are forgiven if they’ve never heard of the Washington, DC-based New Venture, a “501(c)3 public charity [which] supports innovative public interest projects […]” NVF began in 2006 as the Arabella Legacy Fund, taking about $725,000 from Swiss eco-billionaire Hans Wyss for an “innovative” project called Responsible Trails America (RTA). RTA hired Greens to pose as off-road users on state trail funding committees, working to divert gas-tax money from motorized to non-motorized trails. That’s innovation!

From that small start, Arabella-nee-NVF has become massive. NVF’s 2015 funding, as shown on the most recent IRS “charity” tax return available, was $315.7 million bucks! From whom? Forget it, that’s not open to public inspection. To whom? Oh, the anti-gun Americans for Responsible Solutions ($1.013 million); Sierra Club Foundation ($515,000), hundreds of grants totaling $87 million, and not a dime of it political in any way. Majority western values, my eye!

There is nothing to be found about WVP, its budget, its purpose, anywhere in NVF’s records, nor on its web site, nor in any news stories.

Worse, while there’s a smallish number of “news” stories highlighting multiple “six-figure” advertising buys by WVP in multiple states the past few years — not one single “credentialed” journalist, left, right, or straight, from Montana or elsewhere, has ever caught on to WVP’s true nature.

Western Values Project is a dark-money front, buried deep inside the Russian-doll corporate structure of an unknown, yet multi-mega-dollar “charity” called the New Venture Fund. Probably, but instead, Montana’s TV media ran these ads during news prime time — grabbing big bucks while failing to spend a penny of their windfall on, yep, actual investigative news.

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