Montanans in Hiding

by Rebecca Schmitz

My sitemate, Jay, wrote an excellent post today on Left in the West about Trevis Butcher’s running afoul–yet again–of Montana’s election laws because his financial backers don’t want to reveal themselves. There’s a side story to the legal woes of Butcher’s group, Montanans in Action, in both the Missoulian and the Billings Gazette. Apparently this most recent investigation has cramped Butcher’s style:

Trevis Butcher, the group’s treasurer, said the investigation and ensuing legal battle have prevented MIA from carrying out the plans that would show it’s more than just a campaign-fund conduit…Those plans would cost about $1 million a year, the group said in court documents filed last week. They include the talk radio show, investigative reporting on “limited government and property rights issues,” gathering information on “abuses of eminent-domain and private-property rights” in Montana, and comparing the cost of government services to private-sector providers.

Great! Sounds like someone’s got a lot of interesting ideas. There’s always more room in Montana politics for opposing viewpoints. However, if these are truly worthwile political projects then Butcher should have no problems disclosing who’s funding them. His “talk radio” should be no different than that found on any Clear Channel station. After all, commercial and public radio proudly play their sponsors’ ads. Why shouldn’t Trevis Butcher? Don’t Montanans have a right to know who’s funding their favorite program on KGVO and trying to influence their vote?

Meanwhile, perhaps our legislators should look at amending the campaign finance laws in the Montana Code during the next session to include…let’s see…groups with “educational and political purposes”. Or maybe they should just cut to the chase and simply insert the words “Howie Rich“.


  1. Rich

    Along the same line if inquiry…don’t Montanans deserve to know who is funding Forward Montana, and other groups that funnel political contributions to candidates? When will Forward Montana publish their fundraising records to show that the majority of contributions are Montana-based rather than from various east and west coast interests?

  2. I’m helping fund Forward Montana. They welcome all political parties Rich. Their ‘evil’ mission is to get youth involved in politics.

    Nothing sinister there, IMNSHO.

  3. I think you missed my point by, well, about 3,000 miles, Rich. Regardless of where the money’s coming from, all citizens should know who’s writing the checks. Is Forward Montana trying to hide the names of its donors and membership like Montanans in Action? I don’t think so.

    Can you explain why the public shouldn’t be allowed to know who’s funding Trevis Butcher’s political career?

  4. I wonder if he demanded the same from Veterans for Bush?

  5. Since he strongly believes in an open government, let’s hope Rich joins us in demanding full disclosure of Cheney’s 2001 energy task force meetings.

  6. Rich

    Well congratulations “jhwygirl.” Then I’m sure you’ll join me in a call for all Montana political action groups, including Forward Montana, to make public their complete donor lists? You’re honestly serious about Forward Montana welcoming all political parties? ROFL! I doubt, should a complaint me made to the Commissioner of Political Practices, that they would concur with your assessment, but we’ll have to wait.

    Rebecca, stop putting words in my mouth, or on my keyboard in this case. I agree that all citizens should know where the money is coming from, whether that group be Montanans in Action, Veterans for Bush…or Forward Montana. If you honestly support transparency with anything other than lip service, surely you’ll agree?

  7. I do!

    I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in.

  8. noodly appendage

    A somewhat different point of view from libertarians in Oklahoma.

  9. Eric Dondero had the same accusations, but they were never addressed nor proven in a court of law. And notice the similar name of the lobbying group: “Oklahomans in Action”. Jeez, doesn’t that sound an awful lot like another Astroturf group “Common Sense [Insert State Here]”? Same checkbook in each case, you think?

    But your link still doesn’t address the public’s right to know who’s financing political lobbying and campaigns, Noodly. After the manufactured hoopla over City Council e-mails, I thought you cared about sunshine in all facets of government and other very legitimate concerns.

  10. Dude! Before you go all ga-ga for these *sshats’ claims, consider the source. Remember, just because it appears in a blog, it doesn’t mean it’s true. In the meantime, if you could rustle up some corroborating evidence to the claims in your linked-to article, like, say, convictions, by all means, post it here.

  11. Great minds (and same birthdays) think alike!

  12. Whether you believe, as Rich and Rebecca do, that all nonprofits should disclose their donors or no, is beside the point in this case.

    It’s whether Butcher was in compliance with the law. No one doubts Forward Montana’s compliance.

  13. noodly appendage

    I know that most non profits don’t have to disclose their donors.

    As for my citation published in Reason Magazine, did you want to challenge their reporting?

    Didn’t hear you refute anything in Reason, just call a few names. Refute it if you’d like, but I thought a different point of view might be interesting.

    I think my cite made the points I wanted to make, and I’ll leave it there.

  14. noodly appendage

    Here’s the author of the linked piece;

    Brian Doherty is a senior editor of Reason, the libertarian monthly named one of “The 50 Best Magazines” three out of the past four years by the Chicago Tribune. Established in 1968 and a four-time finalist for National Magazine Awards, Reason has a print circulation of 40,000 and won the 2005 Western Publications Association “MAGGIE” Award for best political magazine. Reason Online, the magazine’s Web edition, draws 1.75 million visits per month, and the staff weblog Hit & Run has been named by Playboy, Washingtonian, and others as one of the best political blogs. (2004, Little, Brown).

    From 1994 to 2003, Doherty worked as associate editor and reporter for Reason , writing a variety of stories on topics ranging from the Americans with Disabilities Act to pollution-credit trading to the independent rock scene.

    Doherty’s work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Mother Jones, Spin, National Review, The Weekly Standard, The San Francisco Chronicle, Suck, and dozens of other publications. He was the Warren Brookes Fellow in Environmental Journalism at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in 1999 and served as managing editor at Regulation magazine from 1993–94.

  15. What’s there to challenge about the reporting? I’m not saying the journalist is making anything up. He’s just asking the questions. As I said above, this reporter interviewed someone in Oklahoma making the exact same allegations as someone who worked for the exact same group (different name, though, Montanans in Action) here. In our state this individual’s claims of harassment were unfounded, let alone proven in a court of law, and he himself was punished for breaking the law.

    Just because you’re a Libertarian doesn’t mean you get a free pass in the justice system.

  16. And I didn’t mean the source, as in who wrote the article, but the source, as in who he’s writing about. This dude may be doing some prison time for trying to defraud Oklahoma’s electorate. He’s been indicted by a grand jury, which means enough evidence exists to proceed with a trial.

    Compare that to Johnson’s allegations. There’s been absolutely no evidence of any activity of the type he described. Zero. None. Zip. Other than what this fella, and other “activists” who also participated in other like-minded fraudulent activities across the country.

    That’s the thing. Coincidence that this ballot initiative effort was marked by pervasive fraud wherever it tried to get on the ballot? That’s not me saying that, BTW, that’s the legal systems of at least two states. You’d have to be deep into conspiracy theory to believe it’s an organized effort to quash the ballots.

  17. noodly appendage

    Ah, but there was a challenge to me to “consider the source”, so I did just that, considered the source, which was the magazine and journalist who did the article.

    “Free minds and free markets”!

    My opinion of making law by petition would be across the board, not targeted against the side with which I disagree. I favor representative democracy, not mob rule.

  18. My opinion of making law by petition would be across the board, not targeted against the side with which I disagree. I favor representative democracy, not mob rule.

    Er, that’s fantastic, Noodly! I’m thrilled for you. I think that’s a no brainer, frankly. And apparently so do most Montanans, left or right, if the recent bipartisan legislation tightening up the initiative process — thanks to Johnson and his fraudulent colleagues — is any indication.

    Personally, what really tics me off about Johnson, Rich, et al., is that they tried to buy and lie their way onto the ballot. Personally I think the initiative process should be difficult, transparent, and above-board.

  19. I’m not sure anyone’s going to argue with you, Noodly, with the notable exception of Trevis Butcher, the focus of my post. Shouldn’t the citizens of a representative democracy know who’s trying to influence their votes, as well as funding and/or putting initiatives on the the ballot? Secrecy goes against the very idea of “free minds and free markets”.

    If you clicked on Jay’s “consider the source” link, you would have noticed he was talking about the source of the accusations, not the reporter and his magazine. Sometimes links are a distraction, and sometimes they’re vital to a conversation.

  20. noodly appendage

    I think many will disagree with me on the issue of petition driven government.

    One thing I didn’t mean to imply, was that I agreed with the side you didn’t agree with. Nope, I don’t agree with them, either.

    While the citizens certainly have the right to “petition their government for redress” I’m not sure the unfettered petition process is the way to go. You mention examples of how it can go wrong, but I’ve seen others. Imagine law making by petition in the south in the early sixties! Rarely does the law made by petition consider the very real danger of violating the rights of the minority, and that is where the chief danger of government tyranny “may be apprehended”.

    Some of my reasons for distrust is the tendency for petition gatherers to lie to the people from whom you gather petitions, or to leave out critical information. In addition, few voters know the subject well enough to sign the petition, and an even smaller ratio of voters know the subject well enough to vote on it, which is why many of these get overturned by the courts. Many times, the result simply isn’t good.

    For example, a white supremacist went around in the most liberal part of town and got people to petition him onto the school board ballot. I think, to a person, they admitted signing the petition without knowing the person. He was just a “nice kid” on the doorstep who expressed support for education.

  21. I hear your sentiments, and I do believe that petitions should be hard to do, should be transparent and open, and that this idea that people should sign stuff and let the people decided at the voting booth is bogus.

    Still, I think these petitions are desperately needed to do end runs around legislatures that may be operating by other motives than the general populace. It’s a way that popular ideas become law despite their effect, say, on powerful lobbying interests.

    In the end, it’s up to the courts and the bill of rights to protect us from illegal or unconstitutional legislation. With the proper system of checks and balances set up, the system should work. Montana’s system, IMHO, is pretty good, especially compared to California’s, where it’s way too easy to get these things on the ballot…

  22. I presume this is the same Ed Butcher who supports virtually everything Pres. Bush says? Well, how about this, Butcher lovers?

    Bush on the Constitution: ‘It’s just a goddamned piece of paper’
    Asset H06518 Posted By hungeski
    Last month, Republican Congressional leaders filed into the Oval Office to meet with President George W. Bush and talk about renewing the controversial USA Patriot Act.
    Several provisions of the act, passed in the shell shocked period immediately following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, caused enough anger that liberal groups like the American Civil Liberties Union had joined forces with prominent conservatives like Phyllis Schlafly and Bob Barr to oppose renewal.
    GOP leaders told Bush that his hardcore push to renew the more onerous provisions of the act could further alienate conservatives still mad at the President from his botched attempt to nominate White House Counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court.
    “I don’t give a goddamn,” Bush retorted. “I’m the President and the Commander-in-Chief. Do it my way.”
    “Mr. President,” one aide in the meeting said. “There is a valid case that the provisions in this law undermine the Constitution.”
    “Stop throwing the Constitution in my face,” Bush screamed back. “It’s just a goddamned piece of paper!”
    I’ve talked to three people present for the meeting that day and they all confirm that the President of the United States called the Constitution “a goddamned piece of paper.”

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