The conservative “dark money” political group fighting state efforts to force disclosure of its finances lost another key court decision Friday, as a state judge ruled that it violated multiple state campaign-finance and election laws. District Judge Jeff Sherlock, of Helena, citing American Tradition Partnership’s continued failure to produce records requested by the state and the court, adopted the state’s proposed findings that ATP acted as political committee in 2008 and therefore must report its spending and donors. Sherlock ruled that members and officers of ATP used its corporate, nonprofit status “as a subterfuge to avoid compliance with state disclosure and disclaimer laws during the 2008 Montana election cycle.”
Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Jim Murry, whose office has been investigating ATP over several years, said Friday he’ll likely seek financial penalties against ATP for its violations.
State Assistant Attorney General Mike Black, who has defended the state against ATP’s lawsuit to overturn earlier decisions that it should disclose its spending and donors, said Friday’s ruling “shows no person or entity is above the law.”
“(ATP’s) defiance of Montana law and District Court orders led to an entry of findings which are consistent with our investigation,” Black said.
James Brown, the attorney for ATP, said he’ll be talking to the group’s board of directors this weekend about whether to appeal the ruling or settle the case.
However, he said his client has lost the case on a “procedural dispute” that sets “an extremely dangerous precedent” for anyone or group that wants to fight state efforts to regulate and force disclosure of those behind political speech – even if that speech has a constitutional right to protection.