Into the Darkness

By Beacon Staff

Almost lost in the recent blather about shutdowns and Obamacare were several news items about “dark money.” Yep, the guck that slimes our politics, or as Wikipedia explains: “funds used to pay for an election campaign without disclosure before voters go to the polls.”

First out of the gate was news that U.S. District Judge Donald W. Molloy issued a 34-page ruling savaging the secretive American Tradition Partnership and two ATP contractors, Christian and Allison Lefer. The events leading to Molloy’s ruling would make a good Quentin Tarantino/Pulp Fiction sequel:

Basically, Mrs. Lefer’s car was stolen from a Merchandise Mart near Denver in June 2010. The car, stripped of valuables, was recovered by police ten days later. Also gone were numerous documents pertaining to ATP activities.

Somehow, those documents wound up on the doorstep of the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices (COPP, at the time David B. Gallik) in March 2011.

Judge Molloy declared these obviously-stolen papers “voluntarily provided to the commissioner’s office” and, under Montana law, campaign “disclosures” over and above requirements “shall” be accepted and filed as public record.

Now, the Lefers didn’t learn their stuff was found for over a year, after reporters had examined the papers at the COPP office in Helena, and a PBS Frontline documentary and ProPublica story were published the last week of October 2012.

Frontline reported “convicted felon” Mark Seibel discovered the documents “while staying at a known drug house.” Siebel then turned them over to the attorney husband of Colorado state senator (and ATP target) Gail Schwartz (D). Now, the documents are under control of a federal grand jury. That’ll be interesting.

Next was a ruling from new Montana COPP Jonathan Motl, on a 2010 complaint brought by Debra Bonogofsky of Billings, against ATP predecessor Western Tradition Partnership. Moderate Bonogofsky was running against conservative Dan Kennedy for the Montana House back then, and lost. She then filed a complaint against several groups, including WTP. Commissioner Motl has determined that now-former-Representative Kennedy illegally coordinated with WTP and other groups.

To reach his findings, Mr. Motl used official records, as well as “documents provided by citizens [which in turn] allowed the Commissioner to identify otherwise undisclosed and unreported” activities.

I guess Dan Kennedy has some ‘splainin to do, and I suppose some nice fines to pay. And, there might be some bonus backlash: Current U.S. House Republican candidate Corey Stapleton was Kennedy’s treasurer of record in 2010. But in fairness, Stapleton is not alone in being a “treasurer in name only (TINO).” Figurehead TINO “treasurers” are a common practice, aimed to satisfy Montana law requiring that Montana political action group treasurers be Montana residents – while the “pros” actually keep the books. Still.

Now, I hate dark money nastiness as much as anyone, and that was the other buried news: Stop Dark Money has announced they have approval from Montana’s Secretary of State to begin gathering signatures for a 2014 ballot initiative to, yep, “Stop Dark Money.”

Should you sign? I sure as heck won’t.

First, stopdarkmoney.com, is privately registered through Domains By Proxy, a site anonymizer.

Second, SDM’s mailing address in Great Falls is actually a private mail box at the UPS Store on Smelter Avenue, not a “suite.”

Third, SDM’s mailing address is identical to that of another PAC, MtBASE, which in turn is the partial subject of two outstanding political practices complaints, one by State Senator Janna Taylor arising out of her 2012 primary against Carmine Mowbray.

Fourth, if you want to join SDM or contact them directly, aside from their treasurer (whom I know), you won’t find any names, just a phone number to call.

Fifth, if you want any information on their petition, you must enter a password.

Finally, while stopdarkmoney.com has been up since July, SDM didn’t register as a committee with Montana Political Practices until October 10.

I must ask: If these Stop Dark Money folks really seek transparency in politics, why the heck don’t they show some?

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