Inside the Dark-Money Group Fighting Reform in Montana and Beyond
Voters haven’t had a clue who is behind American Tradition Partnership—the Colorado-based group pushing to rewrite Montana’s campaign finance laws—and that’s just the way the secretive nonprofit wants it.
A 2010 fundraising pitch to its donors promised that “no politician, no bureaucrat, and no radical environmentalist will ever know you helped,” and “the only thing we plan on reporting is our success to contributors like you.”
“Montana has very strict limits on contributions to candidates,” reads the document, obtained by the Center for Public Integrity. “…but there is no limit to how much you can give to this program.”
As for the state’s ban on corporate money in elections? “Corporate contributions are completely legal,” the pitch assures potential funders. “This is one of the rare programs you will find where that’s the case.”
“You can get some traction with that pitch,” says Dennis Unsworth, who led the state’s investigation of the group in 2010 which unearthed the document. “If you can offer to influence the elections outside the law, that’s a great calling card.”
For three election cycles, ATP has plastered the state with mailers attacking “radical environmental groups” and moderate Republicans.
While ATP’s funders are still mostly a mystery, the Center for Public Integrity has identified the secretive organization’s founding donor—an antiunion owner of Colorado’s largest furniture chain—and discovered a long list of affiliations with national tea party groups funded by the conservative billionaire Koch brothers.
This election, ATP has vowed to keep Attorney General Steve Bullock out of the governor’s mansion. In October, voters received a brazen multi-page newspaper-style ad placing the Democratic candidate in a photo lineup with three registered sex offenders.
But the group hit the national spotlight thanks to three landmark court battles with Bullock and the state of Montana.