Dark Money: “Native Vote” Groups Have Same Office, Staff

Aaron Flint posted on November 12, 2014 15:40 :: 522 Views

By: | November 12, 2014

Two Native American political non-profits that were highly active in the run-up to the 2014 election — one of which is supposed to be non-partisan — appear to be closely related.

Western Native Voice (WNV) and Montana Native Vote (MNV) share an office location on 27th Street in Billings. The organizations also share a phone number and have the same staff members according to both organizations’ Facebook pages. Former Democratic State Senator Carol Juneau is listed on the three-person board of directors for each group.

Both organizations are sponsored by the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC), a liberal environmental organization. WORC is located in the same building as both WNV and MNV.

WNV calls itself a “non-profit, non-partisan social justice justice organization working to strengthen native communities.” According to its website, the group is currently seeking tax-exempt 501(c)(3) non-profit status from the IRS. As such, they are forbidden from engaging in partisan political activities.

MNV calls itself a “Native American Voter Engagement organization that recruits Native American political candidates to seek public office at the county, state and national level.” It also states that it is “working for progressive change in Indian Country.” MNV is a 501(c)(4) non-profit that is allowed to participate in partisan politics.

The organizations both were highly active in native communities during the 2014 election cycle. WNV’s official efforts focused on registering voters, rides to the polls, and informational sessions — such as this one at Fort Peck Community College — that claimed to provide non-partisan voter education material on issues and candidates.

WNV did take one overt stand on a political issue, opposing the ballot initiative — LR 126 — that would have eliminated same day voter registration. 501(c)(3) groups are permitted some political activity when it comes to issue advocacy.

MNV also focused on registering voters and canvassing native communities, however, as a 501(c)(4), it also endorsed a large number of candidates for federal, state, and local offices, nearly all of them Democrats. They also endorsed Supreme Court Justice Mike Wheat, who was seen by many as the more liberal of the two Supreme Court candidates. Like WNV, MNV also strongly opposed LR-126.

Both organizations are registered with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices as political committees. MNV’s May and October filings reported just over $30,000 in election spending in 2014, mainly on mailers supporting its endorsed candidates. WNV reported spending just over $14,000, mainly on newspaper advertisements and “in-kind” contributions to Montanans for Free and Fair Elections, the primary political committee that opposed LR-126.

Neither organization disclosed its funding sources to COPP.

Both organizations claim to be under the financial sponsorship of WORC. WORC is a federation of state and local “resource councils” that promote liberal environmental causes. WORC’s Montana arm, the Northern Plains Resource Council, has actively opposed oil, gas, and coal development in the state in recent years, and is larely opposed to hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and the Keystone XL  Pipeline.

Patrick Fisher, who is listed as communications director for both WNV and MNV, did not respond to Media Trackers requests for comment.

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