It’s telling that the first key value listed by the Green Party is a commitment to grassroots democracy powered by the people. To that end, as Holly Michels reported last week, the Green Party’s efforts to get enough signatures to appear on the 2018 ballot in Montana were largely volunteer efforts, occasionally supplemented with the offer of a gift card or two for signature gatherers.
That people-powered effort just wasn’t successful, though, until a shady company with ties to Montana Republicans parachuted into the state to run a highly focused and quite likely illegal effort to gather signatures, not for the sake of improving grassroots access to political power, but to increase the likelihood that Republicans would win a critical Senate race this November by siphoning a few thousand votes away from Senator Jon Tester.
Here’s what we know:
- The Green Party in Montana did not pay for any signature gathering in Montana and was unaware of any efforts to do so.
- An out-of-state political firm called Advanced Micro Targeting paid signature collectors in a rush to get the Greens on the ballot.
- Advanced Micro Targeting is a Republican-linked firm that has engaged in shady practices across the country.
- Advanced Micro Targeting is linked to Chuck Denowh, last seen as a consultant for the Rosendale for Senate campaign.
- The signatures collected in this last-minute effort likely have enough problems that the Greens should not be on the ballot this November.
Advanced Micro Targeting
Advanced Micro Targeting is clearly not a firm that does pro bono work for the Green Party. Their recent victories page is a list of Republican candidates, from Mike Simpson in Idaho to Pat Roberts in Kansas.
Yes, we were payed [sic] and although most of us didn’t know it at the time, but we were deceiving and intentionally misleading voters with scare tactics mostly directed toward the elderly,” Gilmore wrote in a post on Facebook. “I was employed at the time by an outfit out of Las Vegas, Nevada called Advanced Micro Targeting. Most of the people employed at the time barely had a high school education, and most certainly did not live in or were from The Woodlands.”
Advanced Micro Targeting certainly doesn’t just collect idealistic people to travel around the country collecting signatures. They paid canvassers in North Dakota and even show up as one of the “Top 20 Republican jobs” online. Surely, the people canvassing and collecting signatures here in Montana were being paid for their work–and Montanans have every right to know who, especially given the state’s history with dark money groups trying to influence elections.
As the Independent Record noted, the lead person for Advanced Micro Targeting’s efforts in Montana appears to be Cody Pope, who before deleting his Linkedin profile identified “himself as the national campaign director of Advanced Micro Targeting” and as “state director of the Green Party qualification initiative in Montana for Advanced Micro Targeting.”
Someone certainly needs to answer who paid for this effort.
Links to Montana Republicans/Matt Rosendale
Advanced Micro Targeting is also directly linked to important players in the Montana Republican Party, most notably Chuck Denowh. Denowh, who was formerly the executive director of the Montana GOP, headed up the Montana effort to pass Marsy’s Law in Montana. The state organization for Marsy’s Law paid Advanced Microtargeting over $400,000 to pass their flawed constitutional amendment in 2016.
And how is Chuck Denowh spending his time now? Consulting for State Auditor Matt Rosendale, the Republican frontrunner to challenge Senator Tester this fall.
Now, I suppose that this is all coincidental. It’s possible that a Republican-linked political firm linked to someone advising the Rosendale campaign came to Montana to collect signatures for the Green Party without telling anyone, paying anyone, or even informing anyone. It’s also possible that people who work for the firm have mysteriously decided this is the time to delete their social media profiles and refuse to take phone calls from reporters and bloggers.
And, of course, let’s not forget that Tim Adams, who worked for the Montana GOP, was, despite the last minute announcement that the Greens would make the ballot, ready to file to challenge Senator Tester as a Green.
Or there is a simpler explanation. Republicans in Montana, well-versed in shady finance, saw an opportunity to use the Green Party as a weapon against Montana Democrats and the very values that the Green Party holds dear. Electing someone like Matt Rosendale or making it easier for Republicans to control the Legislature and win the governor’s chair in the future by exploiting the Green Party would perversely combat the values the Greens hold most dear.
Everything about this last-minute push to get the Green Party on the ballot screams out conspiracy: a secretly-funded, covert operation to improve the likelihood of Republican success in Montana, at the expense of the Green Party itself and the state’s election laws.
Corey Stapleton and the Curious Case of Certification
Finally, it also seems quite likely that even the effort to gather signatures was fraudulent. I was glad to see that the Montana Democratic Party challenged the legitimacy of the signature count. While Montana’s Secretary of State Corey Stapleton gleefully announced in a partisan tweet that he was certifying the results, county election officials have made it clear they simply didn’t have time to review the signatures thoroughly. The MDP complaint notes that the Secretary of State’s office accepted hundreds of invalid signatures and given Stapleton’s almost total inability to hide his partisan interest in getting the Greens on the ballot, his office will be hard-pressed to defend those signatures under legal challenge.
Stapleton is in a particular bind on this matter because one of the MDP complaints is that some of the signatures do not match those on file with county elections offices, something Stapleton has loudly, repeatedly called evidence of fraud.
A cursory look at some of the signature pages shows obvious problems, from 2-3 people on the same sheet with the exact same handwriting to deliberately obscured information for many signers. The MDP complaint notes implausibilities in the signature gathering, ranging from collectors averaging 500 signatures a day to someone getting a large number of signatures in Great Falls and Billings on the same day–and apparently, for free, driving there for free as no one was paying him for his efforts.
The Big Picture
This isn’t about the Green Party, which has every right to try to get on the Montana ballot. Their leaders made a good faith effort to collect signatures and deserve that opportunity. Our focus going forward should not be to castigate them but to investigate those who are trying to subvert the electoral process and campaign finance laws in Montana to win elections. Ballot access is an absolute right for those who follow the law, but this sham effort needs to be exposed and rejected, for both the sake of the state and the Green Party itself.