Who is Trying to Undo Montana’s Century-old Clean Elections Law?

MontanaMontana's law states, "A corporation may not make a contribution or expenditure in connection with a candidate or a political committee that supports or opposes a candidate or a political party." The law was passed in 1912 to curb the influence of the notorious mining interests, known as the "Copper Kings." Now, a right-wing, 501(c)(4) group based out of Colorado called Western Tradition Partnership, has teamed with the local Bozeman, Montana Champion Paint store to challenge the constitutionality of that law in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United. The suit was filed in the Helena District Court.

In their own words, "Western Tradition Partnership (WTP) is a "no-compromise grassroots organization dedicated to fighting the radical environmentalist agenda." Their commitment to "the responsible development of natural resources" actually means support for drilling, coal-mining, and other environmentally destructive behavior. Former Congressman Ron Marlenee (R-Montana) and former State Representative John Sinrud (R-Bozeman) helped found the Montana affiliate of Western Tradition Partnership in 2008. WTP and Champion Paint are being represented by Margot Barg of the Wittich Law Firm, based in Bozeman, Montana.

Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock, one of the defendants named in the lawsuit, is a strong defender of the state law, and has testified before the U.S Senate that overturning the law would be catastrophic for Montana politics. The winning State Senate candidate in the last Montana elections spent an average of only $17,000. Corporations, particularly out-of-state corporations that do business in Montana could easily drown out the voices of regular citizens if this law was overturned.

You can see a copy of WTP/Champion Paint's complaint here (pdf).


I live in Montana and have come up against some atrocities in its State Law and its reliance on 100-plus year old mining laws that don't mesh with modern realities. Yet, these same laws are used in a thinly veiled attempt to protect contractors, sand and gravel and mining. Recently the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Natural Resources gave the gravel pit industry a free hall pass to steal all the water they want in a river basin that is closed. The rest of we ordinary citizens can't do more than a 35 gallon per minute well and yet, these industries, who donate heavily yo political campaigns and lobby heavily, are allowed to skirt the law based on antiquated laws. My point is that Montana is so far out-to-lunch in reforming its laws that it lags most of the nation by 50 to 100 years.

How then, does Max Baucus get to keep the $4 million a year in campaign contributions he gets from healthcare lobbyists? The answer is he's never had to deal with Montana's law by running for local office and proving himself there first before running for national office. The law is unfair if people like Baucus are allowed to have unlimited amounts of power in the Senate for 40 or more years by hanging out in Washington since law school, firstl working as an SEC lawyer then running for national office , never subject to the Montana state ban on state and local corporate campaign contributions. State and local campaigns are not as important to corporate interests as national campaigns but the state legislature is where local candidates can prove themselves worthy of serving the people by dealing with local issues that are close to them. Since the Montana law forbidding corporate political campaign contributions applies only to state and local Montana candidates and not to egregiously harmful Washington fixtures like Max Baucus, it tends to close the door for fresh, new politicians who want to rise up from the ranks of the state legislature to compete in fund-raising with entrenched characters like Senator Baucus. So year after year, by blaming the Republicans, he manages to support industry-friendly legislation supported by his corporate campaign contibutors, probably making the Republicans jealous for the $4 million a year he gets from the healthcare industry for doing so.

Hey John (R) house District #67. What about this “Green Acres Cooperative Inc” (1721 South Woodland Drive, Kalispell, MT 59901) deal with your “buddy” Loren “George” Everett (R) House District #5 (who owns the property). It seems that the residents have had two informal meetings about forming a Mobile Home Co-Op (per the ROC USA). You initiated this movement. Recruited and proclaimed a “Steering Committee”, Chaired these meetings, and “George” was in attendance and spoke. Don’t you own #13 in that park? But you could hardly be called a “resident” because you do not live there. You just visit 1-2 days a month. Now the residents have been given a membership application, with no return address. It is a joke that your “Buddy” wants $950.000.00 for a property that was appraised by the State (2010) at less than $600,000.00. Add to that “George” will retain 1/7th of the property, according to your committee. All of this has been done with out representation of the residents. I guess they will go along with anything that sounds good. What about the HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS in “liabilities’ the residents will assume IN THE AFTERMATH? IE: The failing septic tanks “George” pumps weekly. No permits will be issued to fix them, so the “Co-OP” WILL BE FORCED TO HOOK UP TO THE CITY OF KALISPELL. And in order to do that….THEY WILL HAVE TO PETITION TO BE ANNEXED (FROM FLATHEAD COUNTY) IN TO THE CITY OF KALISPELL. THE FEES ALONE ARE (COMMERCIAL-PER/UNIT) OVER A HUNDRED GRAND!!. ADD TO THAT – SURVEYING, ESCAVATION, MATERIALS AND RESTORATION . What have they bought? Despite your applications for Grants, and promises for a “rosy” future of “Home ownership”, all you have done is…SOLD YOUR BUDDY “George” ‘s property, AND LADEN THESE DEBTS UPON OTHERS… Think of how their tax bracket will change being part of the City of Kalispell? Maybe you did not know all of these implications…

I am a champion of free enterprise and normally opposed to almost any regulation of private business. However, the citizens of Montana are justifiably skeptical of those who traffic in natural resources. One need only visit Butte or Anaconda (where my wife was born) to see the results of the Copper Kings on some of the most beautiful topography in America.