Circ activation contest

Political practices reports apparent break-in

2012-11-01T19:40:00Z 2012-12-11T19:44:52Z Political practices reports apparent break-inThe Associated Press The Associated Press
November 01, 2012 7:40 pm  • 

Police were investigating a late-night break-in at the office where the state's campaign finance records are kept, but officials said Thursday no documents appeared to be missing.

The investigation comes just five days before the election and during a legal challenge by a consultant to a conservative group over files held by the Office of the Commissioner of Campaign Finances and Practices.

A Capitol security guard reported the break-in at 9:47 p.m. Wednesday, finding the door open and the basement light on. Security had been heightened in the days leading to Tuesday's election.

The basement is where the contested documents from American Tradition Partnership consultant Christian LeFer were held until recently, as had previously been reported in the news.

Commissioner of Political Practices Jim Murry said he does not know whether somebody was trying to steal those documents.

"That's the question everybody is asking and, frankly, that was my concern. But that's speculative,'' Murry said.

Political practices program supervisor Mary Baker said the documents are secure, and previously had been moved off-site. The staff has not found anything missing from the office, which occupies a house on Eighth Avenue, just off the main Capitol complex.

Financial statements were due in the office Oct. 25 from nearly every candidate for political office in the state, resulting in piles of documents on desks and counters in the office in recent days.

"It is hard to tell for sure because there are so many documents here in the office,'' Baker said.

ATP is involved in several lawsuits with the state, which argues the group is engaged in illegal electioneering. The conservative group, actively attacking Attorney General Steve Bullock in a fake newspaper being distributed around the state, is also suing the state over campaign finance laws.

The group successfully overturned Montana's 100-year-old ban on some corporate spending in elections.

The tax-exempt social welfare group convinced federal courts earlier this month to suspend the state's campaign contribution limits, a decision reversed six days later as arguments continue in that case. That has led to turmoil in the governor's race over a disputed $500,000 donation to Republican candidate Rick Hill, who is running against Bullock.

In the news

The documents currently held by the commissioner's office were featured earlier this week in a "Frontline'' documentary. The story said the documents had been found in a reputed Denver drug house.

LeFer filed a complaint in court earlier this week seeking the return of the documents, claiming their release will irreparably harm his business. Lefer said the documents were in his car when it was stolen in Denver in June, 2010.

Lefer's attorney, Quentin Rhoades, did not return a call seeking comment about the break-in and ongoing legal challenge.

An Associated Press request to see the records has been rejected by Murry.

"Based on the lawsuit and investigations regarding potential violations of state law, the office of the commissioner of political practices can no longer make the documents available for public inspection until further order of the court,'' Murry said.

The Helena Police Department is leading the investigation, Chief Troy McGee said. He would not say whether there was any sign of forced entry of the office’s door.

Oct. 22, the Helena campaign office of Steve Bullock, the Democratic candidate for governor, also reported a break-in. Campaign staff said a broken laptop computer, a bicycle pump belonging to a staffer and $1,500 on campaign donations ($1,400 of it in checks) were missing.

Sanction

The break-in ensured that ATP remained at the center of high-profile developments in the campaign finance saga in Montana.

A judge said Thursday that he will sanction American Tradition Partnership — at the center of several legal battles over Montana's campaign laws — for failing to produce organizational records in a 2-year-old case where it is fighting allegations of illegal electioneering.

District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock of Helena said, after a Thursday afternoon hearing, that he will specify the sanctions against American Tradition Partnership after reviewing further written arguments from each side.

The state wants to move forward with penalties sought by the commissioner of political practices. The group argues disclosure would violate its constitutional rights, and instead asked the judge to force more negotiation over disclosure with the state.

"At this point, some sanction will be forthcoming. I don't know what it will be," Sherlock told both sides.

The attorney general's office said that ATP was in "willful disobedience" of court orders to produce records as part of discovery in the case.

"I have never seen anyone stand in front of a judge and say his client's choice is not to obey that judge's orders, and furthermore to say they will continue to disobey the courts orders," said Assistant Attorney General Andy Huff.

The state said documents still not produced by the group as ordered by the judge include organizational records, a list of board members, bylaws, meeting minutes and some communications. The state argues that ATP is not really a nonprofit, social welfare organization as it claims — and says it is really a front group to allow anonymous money to flow into the elections process.

ATP attorney James Brown argues the court's order violates the group's constitutional speech and other rights. But he told Sherlock that ATP did not appeal prior orders to produce the records because it does not believe it would win in front of the Montana Supreme Court.

Brown opened Thursday's afternoon hearing on potential sanctions against his client by bringing up the break-in at political practices, which followed a protest in front of his office a day earlier from those opposed to ATP's undisclosed activities. Brown said the intrigue felt "like being in a John Grisham book."

The records are not part of the case before Sherlock, but are the focus of a separate legal challenge as ATP consultant Christian LeFer seeks to prevent further public disclosure. An Associated Press request to see the records has been rejected by Commissioner of Political Practices Jim Murry, citing investigations into potential violations of state law.

Lefer's attorney, Quentin Rhoades, did not return a call seeking comment about the break-in and that ongoing legal challenge.

-- Reporter Sanjay Talwani contributed to this story

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(18) Comments

  1. skooter
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    skooter - November 03, 2012 9:05 am
    Been asking the same thing for a while now...nothing in response. They don't mind their candidate winning...and make no mistake if Hill does win ATP will have played a sizable role in the win with their slimy attack ads, online ads...

    (I am still amazed that Hill has not condemned the online ad comparing Bullock to a sex offender by showing him in a lineup with other pervs - and Bullock's sex offender registry has been praised nationally for a huge step forward for this state)...

    And the fake Montana Stateman newspaper...at some point, conservatives are going to have to wrestle control of their party back from the leadership, and behind the scenes groups like ATP that are running that party into a morass of greed before everything.
  2. Goldstein84
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    Goldstein84 - November 02, 2012 3:53 pm
    How hard would it be to substitute documents instead of stealing them?
  3. lampropeltis
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    lampropeltis - November 02, 2012 2:15 pm
    Steeline, that wasn't exactly the full throated defense of ATP I had hoped for.

    By the way, we're not exactly despirate. Obama is leading in every statistical analysis of the polls and commands a lead in the electoral college. He could lose, but math is on his side. FYI, true progressives who have really looked at Obama policies over the last 4 years held their nose and voted for him The alternative was much much worse.
  4. steeline
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    steeline - November 02, 2012 9:01 am
    Sounds like a bunch of desperate Obama fans. Getting a little nervous that their master is going to get the boot as well as some of the others. Get used to it everything will work out OK for ya. We have to take Montana back.
  5. MamaConnect
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    MamaConnect - November 02, 2012 4:55 am
    This is definitely GOP - not a DEM thing in Montana.

    Why won't Rick Hill give the $500K back?

    I mean, even if he wins, he'll be recalled, and then they can slide ol Essmann in there, and the GOP still wins the gubernatorial seat - as they so desperately wish to do this year, as we can witness by the hi-jinks.

    Don't blame the Dems here......the GOP can own it all, as they should. As NOT ONE has owned their behavior, they should ALL be recalled! Start over! REAL Montanans - not just hats and boots.

    This entire situation is a complete embarrassment to our state on a National level. I bet the GOP thinks they are part of the "Cool kids club" now or something, when they should all be in jail for fraud and lying to Montanans.
  6. MamaConnect
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    MamaConnect - November 02, 2012 4:49 am
    Straight Dem ticket? I think not....we have some VERY good Libertarian candidates out there.

    In any order, after learning all I have, I think folks should vote on the little guy they are all hammering on......that's probably the REAL candidate out there who is not financed with out of state interests.

    This entire situation is an embarrassment to Montana - and completely explains 79 vetoes last session - and "Bat C#%p Crazy"
  7. lampropeltis
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    lampropeltis - November 01, 2012 11:14 pm
    Where are all the right-wingers defending ATP and their own party for lying in bed with them? Come on guys, I'm looking forward to a full throated defense of corruption and out of state money influencing our elections.
  8. lampropeltis
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    lampropeltis - November 01, 2012 11:11 pm
    American Tradition Partnership is nothing but a collection of criminals who offer their undying love to republican candidates. Why aren't the republicans publicly rebuking this group? I'll tell you why, because democracy is an inconvenience to them. Everyone in Montana, everyone who values our democracy, should vow to vote a straight democrat ticket until republicans denounce ATP and take a stand against corruption and electioneering. Montana is better than this.
  9. GloryBee
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    GloryBee - November 01, 2012 8:46 pm
    Except whom do we impeach?? Funny! Will there be anyone left?
  10. GloryBee
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    GloryBee - November 01, 2012 8:44 pm
    Infidel4
    If you are considering yourself to be cynical, then I must be the condescending sniff at the end! I agree, whatever happened to representation of the people in Montana? Very funny with the “Col. Mustard and Candle Stick” comment, if anything, I finally had a laugh reading a post. Maybe Bullock had his own office broken into to make the other side look guilty and I can see Gallik, Murry, and Schweitzer needing to cover their tracks. Maybe ATP has links to the Cartel and don’t want it out. I cannot wait until election is over this time. Maybe if Montanan’s are lucky, we will get the lesser of the evils in office…if there is such a thing.
  11. Veg4Life
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    Veg4Life - November 01, 2012 8:37 pm
    It says right in the story that ATP distributed the fake newspaper to try to discredit Bullock. Why on earth wouldn't Rick Hill denounce ATP and their tactics. These printed materials are an abuse of our electoral system - the tactics are underhanded and dishonest...It seems Hill is comfortable being supported by the shady dealings of ATP.
  12. MamaConnect
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    MamaConnect - November 01, 2012 6:59 pm
    I want my state back!

    NO MORE out of state PO Boxes ruling Montana!

    NAIL EM!!!!
  13. infidel4
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    infidel4 - November 01, 2012 5:44 pm
    and you wonder why I am cynical.
  14. infidel4
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    infidel4 - November 01, 2012 5:43 pm
    Let"s see, Bullock saves tens of thousands after his friend files to run on the last day of filing, but seeks an injunction when Hill taks half a million from the Republican party, Rather hypocritical. Bucy and Fox each take $30+ thousand from their parties, gosh, it's as if nobody can be trusted. I would like to think that we have one trustworthy candidate, but sadly, all of them are in it for themselves, their parties and everyone's interest except Montana's. Who could have broken in? I say Col. Mustard, with the candle stick in the Office of Political Practices. Do you think Gallik accidentally left something behind that needed to be retrieved? Maybe Murry and Schweitzer ended up in a file......but no, they are all so honest.
  15. FlamingLiberal1
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    FlamingLiberal1 - November 01, 2012 3:24 pm
    Interesting. I already felt that Super-PAC dark money was ruining the election... people with money can pretty much say whatever they want without even identifying the people behind the message, and without accountability for the truth. Now this. I wonder if it has anything to do with ATP, or the Rick Hill $500K donation? I noticed his "blackout" is no longer in effect, and heard some vile attack ads from Hill's campaign on the radio today.
  16. justme59601
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    justme59601 - November 01, 2012 2:44 pm
    I watched that too. Since it was on PBS it was obviously "unbiased". I think big bird is still pissed off about the debate.
  17. Tiger Woops
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    Tiger Woops - November 01, 2012 1:09 pm
    An interesting program aired today on PBS and will air again tomorrow regarding this little fiasco.... a major corruption conspiracy on the part of RepubliCONS and a hint of WATERGATE??? Follow the link and figure it out for yourself....

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/government-elections-politics/big-sky-big-money/mysterious-docs-found-in-meth-house-reveal-inner-workings-of-dark-money-group/
  18. bigskyer1
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    bigskyer1 - November 01, 2012 12:48 pm
    Wow MONTANAGATE????

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