5 Months Later, Bullock Camp Responds

Well, it’s only been nearly 5 months since Governor Steve Bulllock’s (D-MT) office was first contacted about a story suggesting illegal coordination between the newly elected Governor’s campaign and third party “dark money” groups. 

The mainstream media in Montana basically ignored the story, outside of a blog post by The Great Falls Tribune’s John Adams (who got blown off by Bullock’s campaign manager).  The media, by and large, continued to ignore the story even after a formal complaint was filed with the Commissioner of Political Practices in March. 

But now, nearly 5 months later, it appears the Bullock camp has finally formed a response to the allegations and the rest of the media has now decided to cover the story.  All this, despite several reports and editorials depicting Gov. Bullock as some sort of antidark money crusader. 

Chuck Johnson has this:

Attorneys for Hilltop and the Bullock campaign denied Pennington’s coordination charges as false in responses filed with the political practices commissioner.

“Mr. Pennington incorrectly alleges that simply because a gubernatorial campaign and independent organization used a common vendor, Hilltop, to provide various services for them in 2012 that all expenditures made by the independent organizations were coordinated with the gubernatorial campaign,” said James Lamb, a Washington, D.C., lawyer representing Hilltop. “He is wrong.”

Lamb said Hilltop put up “a strict firewall” between its staff providing services to the Bullock campaign and those providing services to the independent groups. This prohibited any flow of material information between the two sides, he said.

Speaking of “dark money,” Politico looks at efforts taking place in states across the nation:  

State governments from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic seaboard are attempting to blunt the influence of free-spending super PACs and nonprofits by allowing people to contribute more money to political candidates.

In March, Wyoming became the first state to ease restrictions on campaign contributions, raising limits from $1,000 to $1,500 for local candidates and to $2,500 for statewide candidates. The legislation also placed a cap on donations to candidates from political action committees, which previously had no limit.

Both chambers in Montana’s state legislature considered increasing contribution limits, but the House-initiated measure was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock who said he would have accepted higher donation limits if they were coupled with measures requiring greater transparency.


I know I’ve been out for a couple of weeks, so I start this week’s political trough with an older story.  Why?  Well, apparently because the dark money obsessed Montana media has staged some sort of blackout on this story. 

From The Free Beacon: A Hilltop Too Far

One of the left’s most prominent campaign finance reform advocates has been accused of illegally coordinating with a host of liberal groups in the run up to winning a gubernatorial election last year.

Democratic Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has led the fight to undermine the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United vs. FEC, which struck down efforts to regulate the political speech of nonprofit groups, corporations, and labor unions.

According to a complaint filed March 13 with Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices, Bullock’s gubernatorial campaign illegally coordinated with a host of independent expenditure groups through the shadowy Democratic consultancy Hilltop Public Solutions.

James Pennington of Billings, MT has filed a formal ethics complaint against Gov. Bullock with the Commissioner of Political Practices. The complaint, 277 pages long, alleges Gov. Bullock violated Montana Campaign Finance laws by illegally coordinating between third parties and the campaign. The entire report can be read at the link above and portions are outlined below:

Dear Commissioner Murray,

I am submitting a formal complaint to your office that Steve Bullock, his campaign, and third-party groups violated Montana Campaign Finance laws. I believe in many instances these violations appear intentional and contrived to circumvent requirements of disclosure laws. Consequently, I feel Montana voters were deprived of important, and legally required, information. While this election revealed a new era of political spending, it did not eliminate regulatory safeguards such as disclosure. It did not eliminate prohibitions on coordination between candidates, their agens, and supposed independent spending committees

Steve Bullock, the Montana Democratic Party, Montana Conservation Voters, Planned Parenthood of Montana, MT AFL-CIO/Build Montana PAC, MT-JET PAC, and others all used the services and employees of Hilltop Public Solutions, or its affiliates, or other vendors, to coordinate, manage, design and distribute campaign material to influence the results of the 2012 Montana gubernatorial election. All persons identified here are obviously politically sophisticated. They certainly have resources readily available to either abide by the law or circumvent it. I believe their acts exemplify a lack of candor fron individuals now purporting to champion the cause of campaign finance report and full public disclosure.

The major parties named by Mr. Pennington are extensive:

  • Friends of Steve Bullock-Bullock for Gov. (Steve Bullock, Kevin O’Brien, Melanie Brock, Eric Ohlsen)
  • Build Montana PAC, MT-AFL-CIO, MEA-MFT (Chris Cavazos)
  • MEA-MFT COPE (Eric Burke, Build MT PAC Contributor, Element Design IE)
  • Montana Jobs, Education and Technology PAC (Ed Logan, Mike Lamb, Harper Lawson)
  • Montana Conservation Voters-MCV Action Fund (Committee of MCV Board, Julia Page, Theresa Keaveney)
  • Planned Parenthood Advocacy of MT (Suzi Kopec, Stay Anderson, Molly Bell, Libby Smelker)
  • Democratic Governors Assoc. of MT (Benjamin Metcalf)
  • Montana Democratic Party (Jim Elliot)
  • Big Sky Democrats (Anna O’Brein, Kevin O’Brein, Molly Bell, Melanie Brock)
  • Forward Montana Board (Molly Bell, Aaron Browning, Chris Cavazos)

Mr. Pennington also names political consultants:

  • Hilltop Public Solutions (Barrett Kaiser, Mo Elleeithee, Molly Bell, Marco Guido, Eric Ohlsen, Libby Smelker)
  • Three Point Media (Mo Elleeithee)
  • Brushfire Strategies (Marco Guido)
  • Greenlight Median Strategies (Hilltop’s NY Address)

The substance of Mr. Pennington’s accusation centers around Hilltop Public Solutions, a Washington, D.C. political consulting firm. He notes the interrelated individuals and groups and concludes that there could not have been a separation necessary to meet Montana Campaign Finance laws. He states:

Given the inter-related activities of the participants through use of common vendors (Hilltop) and political affiliations it is difficult to comprehend how these parties maintained the separation necessary to avoid coordination their campaign efforts. A communication is coordinated if made in cooperation, consultation, or in concert with, or at the request of suggest of the candiate, his campaign, or an agent. Due to the interrelationships and interactions with Hilltop and others, the Governor’s campaign and these groups allowed Hilltop to acquire vital information about each campaign’s plans, projects, activities and needs. Hilltop, and other other vendors, were able to use that vital information in creating materials, production and distribution of campaign communications for each respective client’s campaign.

If these allegations are true, what does that make of Gov. Bullocks transparency in campaigns legislation he just introduced last week?

Gov. Steve Bullock is apparently refusing to comment on a story which suggests illegal coordination between his campaign and a dark money group which was behind third party campaign commercials.  Similar allegations have been levelled against the right-leaning American Traditions Partnership (ATP) group, and then reported on as such by nearly every other media outlet in the state of Montana.

So far, The Great Falls Tribune’s John Adams appears to be the first of the Capital press corps in Helena to actually query Gov Steve Bullock’s office:

Kevin O’Brien, who ran Bullock’s 2012 campaign and now serves as Bullock’s deputy chief of staff, issued the following statement when asked about the Media Trackers report:

“We don’t comment every time a dark-money group, masquerading as a media outlet, levels unsubstantiated and misleading accusations.”

Illegal Coordination from Gov’s Campaign?

The involvement of a Democratic dark money group in helping the re-election effort of Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) has been well noted (link here, and another link here).

However, now Montana Media Trackers has unveiled some new information that may suggest illegal coordination between newly elected Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT) and that same dark money group.

In the weeks and months leading up to the 2012 election, Gov. Steve Bullock’s campaign held several conference calls with a political consulting firm that managed independent expenditures for several PACs involved in the gubernatorial race, raising questions about possible illegal coordination between the firm and Bullock’s campaign.

The governor’s campaign listed expenditures for conference calls on June 20, July 25, and October 20, 2012, as well as payment for travel expenses on February 16 and October 20, 2012, towards S&B Public Solutions, which according to business registration records with the District of Columbia, is the official registered name for Hilltop Public Solutions.

Bullock Declines Comment on Illegal Coordination Story

Formal Ethics Complaint Leveled Against Bullock

POLITICAL TROUGH: Story Ignored by Montana Media

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