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Jason Priest: Buying the Supreme Court

Michael Beckel at The Center for Public Integrity just issued a report examining the role of Jason Priest’s dark money Montana Growth Network on the 2012 Supreme Court race in Montana.

The report makes clear just how transparently disingenuous organizations like the Montana Growth Network really are. During the primary, Priest’s organization spent $42,000 supporting their preferred candidate, Laurie McKinnon, disclosing spending because their activities were in support of a candidate.

The Montana Growth Network spent roughly $42,000 during the primary election — more than either Sheehy or McKinnon’s own campaigns.

Once Sheehy and McKinnnon advanced to the general election, though, the Montana Growth Network stopped reporting its spending, claiming that mailers attacking Ed Sheehy were simply issue ads:

Ahead of the November election, one direct mail piece from the Montana Growth Network argued that under Sheehy, justice would be “beholden to a political party,” based on Sheehy’s past financial support of Democratic candidates.

Additionally, both mail and radio advertisements said that Sheehy had an “activist agenda” for his defense of Tyler Michael Miller, the so-called “Christmas Day Killer” who murdered his girlfriend and her 15-year-old daughter “in cold blood” in 2010.

Even a member of the TEA Party can see through what the MGN is attempting to do—and what Montana law currently allows.

That’s the system Jason Priest worked so hard to protect during the last legislative session: a climate in which dark money organizations can spend unlimited, unreported funds simply by asserting that their actions are not directly in support of a candidate, no matter the evidence that’s not true.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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  • Shocking! You mean donors with deep pockets would attempt to influence the judicial system in order to achieve outcomes more to their liking? Why didn’t the Montana Trial Lawyers figure that out thirty years ago? Wait a minute…

      • dpogreba TimothyAdams I’m pretty sure they didn’t start a dark money organization run by Kendall Van Dyk and Hilltop Public Solutions to encourage people to vote for Dan Cox as the “true conservative.”  But maybe I’m wrong?
        Considering Dems have lead in 501c4 political donations and 527s since 2000, I have a hard time hearing any whining about “dark money” when the left has been doing it longer, and spending much more money.

        • TimothyAdamsdpogrebaMr. Adams, your points are irrelevant, false, and lend support
          to our cause, an impressive trifecta to be sure! First, Jon Tester is
          unrelated to the Supreme Court race, as is the Democratic party and
          everything else you talked about.  So, irrelevant.  Second, we’re
          discussing Montana, where the GOP far outspent Dems in terms of
          anonymous money in the most recent election cycle, as even this article
          essentially repeating your point admits –
          False.  And finally, if dark money is being used equally by both sides,
          isn’t that all the more reason to get rid of it?  After all, such
          reforms would not benefit one party over the other, merely improve the
          general cleanliness of our elections!  If no one on this site had
          pointed that out months ago, your comment would at least have some
          novelty value..  

          Alas, it lacks even that.

        • MatthewDownhour TimothyAdams dpogreba The only “citation” that disputes what I put up is Propublica, which is funded by George Soros surrogates.  It only references the FEC, but provides absolutely no source for its assertion 84% of the money was conservative.  Could I please see the source. 
          I’ve provided 2 sources, OpenSecrets and Center for Responsive Politics showing that from 2000 to 2012 every cycle in terms of 501c4 dark money and 527 political committees, liberals outspent conservatives in both areas.  
          Please either dispute what I actually wrote or prove what you’re saying.

        • TimothyAdamsMatthewDownhourdpogreba 
           I’m going to charitably assume you got your links from someone else and didn’t read them.  Your first link says almost what you think it does – but it is specifically discussing 527s , making no mention of 501(c)s (and of course, 527s are substantially less anonymous, hence the list of donors at the bottom of your link which might have tipped you off, if you cared).  And if I were lazy, that might have convinced me!    But no, a quick browser search reveals that that page doesn’t even mention 501(c) groups!  So you forced me to keep looking, all the way to your second link. 
          The second link, hilariously, restates what my source (George Soros, apparently) was saying – “About 85 percent of the money that was spent by nonprofits in the 2012
          cycle, as reported to the FEC, was paid out by conservative groups.”  There’s even a handy graph to demonstrate how large the gap is!
          In other words, thanks for a laugh, Timothy, but I’d really double check your links before you post them.  Conservative groups spend five time as much untraceable money as liberal ones last cycle, and you’ve given your own link to prove it.

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