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  Comments (0) Total Thursday Apr. 24, 2014
Nader’s Montana Raiders
Closing Range
Darn. Only three months after the last election, the political slime spigot has already been turned on again: Most of us saw the cheesy Super Bowl ad trying to pin the National Rifle Association, “independently” paid for by billionaire nanny Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal [For Peasants] Guns.

I was going to discuss what our august legislators in Helena are doing to give us some relief, but only got as far as Scott Reichner’s (R-Bigfork) HB229. Reichner’s bill seeks to raise individual contribution limits for state and local candidates quite a lot – for the governor race, from $630 to $2,500; for legislators, from $160 to $500. It would also repeal the limits on party, PAC and corporate donations to candidates.

As I have written before, Montana’s political campaign rules are completely dysfunctional. Given unlimited outside money against Montana’s candidate limits, it seems that only power freaks, idealists, zillionaires or the insane would ever consider running for Montana office.

So I think HB229 is a step in the right direction. Certain others don’t. Mike Dennison of Lee Newspapers reported on the committee hearing for HB229, and quoted one “C.B. Pearson of Common Cause” in opposition: HB229 is “an aggressive assault on fair elections in Montana” that would “produce an arms race mentality, where more money coming from out of state will dominate.”

Who is C.B. Pearson? You should know, as he’s ranked by Campaigns and Elections as one of Montana’s top five Democratic “political influencers.”

The limits Reichner’s bill seeks to change were established by ballot initiative. The first was 1994’s I-118, America’s first statewide law limiting not only individual, but also PAC contributions to legislative campaigns. The second, I-125, passed on the second try in 1996, prohibited corporate spending on ballot initiative campaigns, but was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Ninth Circuit.

Both initiatives came from MontPIRG, co-founded in 1981 by Pearson and Jonathan Motl, currently an attorney with Morrison, Motl and Sherwood in Helena. Motl wrote, and Pearson was campaign manager of, both I-118 and I-125. Both also collaborated on IR-114, which repealed HB-575, a legislative ban on nonprofit corporate contributions, later determined unconstitutional.

PIRG stands for Public Interest Research Group(s), a collection of state-level subsidiaries of U.S. PIRG, a political action entity originally founded in 1983 by anti-corporatist activist Ralph Nader and Donald Ross.

I suppose you want to know why Pearson stated to legislators he was representing Common Cause. That’s not a coincidence, either. For one thing, Mr. Motl has served on the national governing board of Common Cause, and on behalf of the same and an entity called Stand With Montanans, authored 2012’s I-166 initiative. Stand With’s treasurer? C.B. Pearson, who is also Missoula office director for M+R Strategic Services.

M+R is a nationwide affiliate of Malkin and Ross, a New York lobbying firm co-founded by Arthur Malkin, legislative director for Ralph Nader’s New York PIRG from 1978-1984, and Donald Ross, who in 1970 “joined Ralph Nader as a consumer attorney” and “went on to organize many” state PIRGs.

Remember Pearson’s concern over “out of state” money? Washington, DC-based Common Cause funded the vast bulk ($303,175) of Stand With Montanans’ I-166 campaign budget. Other contributions included a whopping $5,731 from Montana PIRG “students” at UM, with the last month before the election brought in 26 or so “grassroots” contributions totaling around $1,277. In Stand With’s last reporting period alone, “Common Cause-Expenditures” included $9,700 to M+R Strategic Services (Pearson) and $13,600 to Morrison, Motl [Jonathan] and Sherwood.

I don’t have the heart to look for the grand totals – but it was “out of state” money well spent: Even though 99 percent of Montana small businesses are incorporated, a whopping 74.6 percent of Montana voters agreed that “corporations are not human beings with constitutional rights.”

When Ralph Nader ran for president in 2000, his radical views and reputation gathered him only 5.95 percent of the Montana vote – a tiny 2.73 percent nationally. Yet two of Nader’s Raiders keep writing equally radical ballot initiatives – and Montana voters keep passing them?

I must say I’m impressed – by Pearson and Motl, anyway.
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Kellyn Brown
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Dillon Tabish
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