The signatures of a local state representative may have been in a group of documents that may link an organization to illegal campaigning in Montana, although the representative said she does not know how the organization could have gotten them.
At three-and-a-half minutes into the PBS Frontline episode “Big Sky, Big Money, ” a sheet of paper with a series of signatures appearing to belong to Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Havre, is shown while the camera pans over a series of documents apparently connected to Western Tradition Partnership.
“I have not sent signatures to Western Tradition Partnerships, ” Warburton texted to a Havre Daily News reporter this morning. “I have used a variety of mail vendors for many projects. I will be pretty irritated if one of them was that irresponsible with my signature stamp. I have always complied with the law. ”
The office of the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices, which now has possession of the documents discussed in “Big Sky, Big Money, ” has sealed the documents due to pending legal action.
A representative of Frontline declined to comment on whether Warburton’s signature was found in the documents, citing ongoing work investigating the story.
Warburton replied at 8:45 p. m. Thursday to emails from the Havre Daily News sent Wednesday and Thursday asking if she had any contact with Western Tradition Partnerships. She texted the Havre Daily several times this morning, saying she was on the road and in intermittent cellphone service and could not give a telephone interview.
Frontline’s “Big Sky, Big Money” program investigated whether the group may have violated election laws by coordinating its actions with political campaigns.
The show also discussed the connection between the issue and corporate money and PACs following the U. S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.
The documents were found in a “meth house” or a criminal “safe house” in Colorado, where they apparently were taken from a car that had been stolen.
The show first aired Tuesday on Montana PBS. It reported on the possibility that Western Tradition Partnerships, now American Tradition Partnerships or ATP, may have illegally conducted campaign activities for Montana candidates.
As a social welfare nonprofit group, ATP can campaign on social issues without having to file with the commissioner of political practices and without disclosing who donated to the group. Such groups are forbidden to campaign for or against specific candidates.
The group was investigated by the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices in 2008, while still WTP, with then-Commissioner Dennis Unsworth finding that it had violated Montana’s campaign laws.
It continues to be in the news this fall, suing the state in a complaint saying the state’s contribution limits are unconstitutionally low. A judge ruled in favor of ATP, opening the door for contributions like the $500,000 made to Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Hill, but then the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals put a stop on Judge Charles Lovell’s decision until it could rule on the case, effectively re-instituting the campaign limits at least through the election.
Warburton said she conducted a mail campaign in 2008 where she sent a signature stamp, but had never sent signatures to ATP. She said the company to which she sent them may have been Direct Mail and Communications, but she would have to check that this afternoon when she returned home.
Direct Mail and Communications is a printing company which Christian LeFer helps his wife to run, according to the reporting of Frontline and the nonprofit journalism organization Pro Publica, which collaborated on the investigative reporting that led to the production of “Big Sky, Big Money. ”
Pro Publica reports that LeFer was listed in 2009 as the director of strategic programming for the group, while it still was known as Western Tradition Partnerships.
Pro Publica also reports that Jim Brown, a lawyer for ATP, suggested that the documents found in Colorado belonged to Direct Mail and Communications.