While I’m glad to see that the state is, as the Associated Press notes, pursuing a maximum penalty of $321,365 from the dark money smear merchants at American Tradition Partnership, I can’t help but thinking that a monetary fine won’t really serve justice or the democratic process here in Montana. For one thing, ATP is already claiming that they don’t have the money to pay any fines, as their funders have scurried away from the light following the PBS Frontline/ProPublica special about their behavior and their abject failure in the November election.
More importantly, though, even the collection of a fine won’t provide the information we really need: just which candidates did ATP illegally coordinate with and what penalties should they be subjected to. In the end, under the current regulatory climate for elections, we’re going to see more groups like ATP come into the state and illegally coordinate campaigns—what is really important to know is which candidates did it. After all, the Montana CoPP office said that what happened in these cases was more than campaign assistance:
“My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that WTP was running a lot of these campaigns,” said investigator Julie Steab of the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices, who initially received the boxes from Colorado.
Getting to the root of that coordination and exposing those who did it matters a lot more than a probably futile campaign to collect money.
I’d prefer if the state could offer to settle the monetary damages in exchange for full disclosure of ATP’s practices and partners in the state. The monetary fine is certainly warranted, but what’s needed is a full explanation of the role ATP played in Montana races, especially for candidates still in (or seeking) office.
So how about a settlement, CoPP and ATP? Give up the monetary fine for some full disclosure. Everybody wins.
Undoubtedly, someone (probably anonymously, and probably from a meth house IP address) will come online to argue that this is selective enforcement and that Democrats are involved in dark money, too. Maybe true, but ultimately irrelevant.
Oddly enough, this situation is a lot like the performance-enhancing drugs scandal rocking baseball right now. It’s no excuse for Ryan Braun or Alex Rodriguez to argue that “other people are doing it, too” and it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t impose serious consequences on those who break the laws and get caught.
Candidates dumb enough to hitch themselves to an amateurish, thuggish, and disreputable outfit like ATP deserve to be exposed, even if it’s less a matter of judging them by the company they keep than mocking them for the idiots with which they chose to associate.