HELENA — Two Republican lawmakers say in recent complaints that American Tradition Partnership illegally coordinated with their primary election opponents.
Sen. Bruce Tutvedt of Kalispell and Rep. John Esp of Big Timber filed the complaints last week with the political practices office, Lee Newspapers of Montana reported Wednesday. Both incumbent legislators faced a heavy barrage of attacks during primary election campaigns.
Washington, D.C.-based American Tradition Partnership denounced the claims as “false and meritless.”
The group is perhaps best known for mounting legal challenges to Montana election laws, one of which led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision striking down the 1912 law banning direct expenditures by corporations for or against candidates.
Critics have called ATP a “dark money” group that intentionally hides electioneering efforts. A state judge earlier this week sanctioned the group for failing to provide information on its activities.
Tutvedt’s complaint alleges that his opponent, Rollan Roberts II, American Tradition Partnership, and Taxpayers for Liberty and the National Association for Gun Rights wrongly coordinated activities in the June 2012 primary.
“I have real problems with dark money,” Tutvedt said. “I just think dark money is a problem in the election process (in) that you can have anonymous money (spent) that doesn’t have to tell the truth.”
Esp filed two complaints that stem from his 2010 primary against Joel Boniek. He filed one against Direct Mail and Western Tradition Partnership, the predecessor of American Tradition Partnership. The other was against two Big Timber men who wrote a letter critical of him, and another resident who paid for it.
“It’s time for them to play fair if they’re going to play in politics. If the rest of us have to follow the rules, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t have to follow the rules, too,” Esp said.
American Tradition Partnership executive director Donald Ferguson dismissed the latest allegations against his group.
“This is further proof anyone who questions the Helena establishment is subject to abusive attacks on their character,” he said. “ATP does not, never has and never will coordinate with candidates and nothing in the complaint shows coordination.”
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