Opinion

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Closing Range

Buds of Darkness

Pot initiative epitomizes dark-money racket

Gee, I’m glad I decided to swim in Montana 2020’s dark-money sewer. It sure beats just drowning in the lying ads both sides are pouring out. Have you voted early? Me too!

The other day I found a neat, not-so-little sewage backwater. In case you’ve been too irritated to notice, we’ve got five ballot issues we’ll have to vote on, wisely, of course. Three, C-46, C-47 and LR-130, should easily pass, with very little money spent.

But millions in dark, delicious green are being dumped on the last two: Constitutional Initiative 118 (CI-118), which would raise the constitutional “adulthood” age for pot to 21 from 18, same as booze; and Initiative 190 (I-190), sixty-six pages of unreadable (and unread) legalese regulating “adult-use marijuana-infused products.” Try saying THAT mouthful after a little “infusion.” Hilarious, man!

I could write about what a reeking cloud of self-interested, rent-seeking smoke I-190’s promoters are blowing, and I pray Montana voters see through it – but I promised I’d follow the money for you. So…

First thing I learned, I couldn’t follow much money back to Montana. State records show I-190 “sponsor” New Approach Montana (NAM) was created in October 2019, taking over from “Coalition 406,” with headquarters being (surprise!) a Last Chance Gulch post office box. Of about $164,000 gathered prior to the report deadline of March 26, 2020, New Approach raised a screaming $160 from individual Montanans. The rest came from organizations based in, yep, Washington, DC.

What about now? Well, using public and not-so-public documents, as of Aug. 30, NAM was sitting darn pretty.

One of NAM’s main funders is New Approach PAC (NAPAC), a federal “527” that, in theory, has to timely report. Sorta. NAPAC’s report to Montana, filed by Graham Boyd of Washington, DC (he used to be Drug Policy Litigation Director for the ACLU, and is now an “advisor” for “philanthropists who fund” drug “reform”) shows NAPAC is $1.89 million in the hole, with “no entries found” for income, but NAM’s corresponding report shows all of that $1.89 million “hole” has gone to, yep, NAM. Wow, they must have good plastic!

Another funder, paying “in-kind” for NAM’s Montana legal needs, is the Sixteen Thirty Fund, an IRS 501c4, worth a book on its own, but I’ll focus on the “North Fund,” yet another IRS 501c4 “nonprofit” which sprang to life in February 2019.

North Fund is based in DC at one of those “co-working/shared workspace” joints where you can rent the “café plan” (with WiFi privileges) for 35 bucks a month. A personal desk will cost you $440 per month.

How much bud has North Fund given New Approach Montana? As of August 30, $2.94 million, with one check being $1.4 million! And – it gets better. NBC Montana reporter Madison Doner got on North Fund’s scent before I did, and thanks to her reporting, Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan sent North Fund a nice letter asking them to disclose their donors. Mangan’s nice letter generated a response prepared by the fine lawyers at Nossaman LLP and Gallik, Bremer and Molloy, PC; which Ms. Doner’s producer Cynthia Koures passed on to me. Mr. Gallik, amusingly but absolutely not coincidentally, is one of Mr. Mangan’s predecessors as commissioner, serving briefly under the esteemed Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

The letter explains that the $2.4 million came from “existing general treasury funds,” and “will constitute less than 10%” of North Fund’s spending in 2020, therefore North Fund is merely an “incidental” committee that just happens to be spending a few bucks out of many in Montana.

How many? The “Declaration of Cristina Uribe,” board treasurer (since December of 2018) states North Fund had $9.3 million in “donations” land on their rental desk in fiscal year 2019 after “no financial activity” in 2018. Nice start!

Next, as “of August 30, 2020, North Fund has received $32 [million] in donations, and distributed $25 [million].” Further, as of “September 24, 2020, North Fund has contributed $4,127,000 to New Approach Montana.”

Hey, do you think if I rented a desk next to Cristina’s at that workplace sharing place, I could get people to send me that kind of green on the sly? Or am I smoking something?