A political group that has gained notoriety for challenging campaign restrictions on corporations was fined $260,000 on Tuesday after a judge said it failed to disclose spending. The civil penalty levied against American Tradition Partnership, which is organized as a nonprofit corporation, demonstrated that new campaign freedoms extended to corporations don’t make them immune to state disclosure laws. District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock said in his order that the group has shown “complete disregard” for the laws of Montana, its courts, and the tradition of free and open elections. The case involves attack ads mailed by the group in 2008 denouncing candidates. Officials say it did not report the spending as political activity to the state commissioner of political practices. The group, which was headquartered in Montana then Colorado and the Washington, D.C., area, has challenged state campaign finance laws and targeted moderate Republican legislators and Democrats with harsh campaign ads.
The group was part of an effort that resulted in the 2012 Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that nullified Montana’s century-old law that limited election spending. It also has won recent legal battles over political advertising, prompting a federal judge to strike down a Montana law requiring attack ads to list associated voting records and other state regulations.
It also asked Judge Sherlock in 2010, when it was called Western Tradition Partnership, to declare as unconstitutional several other laws requiring disclosure of campaign spending. The request came as the commissioner of political practices was investigating the group for failing to disclose.
The case turned against American Tradition Partnership when the attorney general’s office, representing the state, sought fines in the commissioner’s eventual findings.
Full Article: Judge hits ‘dark money’ group with big penalty.