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Jan
2016
29

Docs Reveal Brutally Illegal Interference in MT Elections by National Right-to-Work Committee

Christian Lefer, master of Right-to-Work puppets.

Christian Lefer, master of Right-to-Work puppets.


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A bevy of newly uncovered documents detail the amount of influence the National Right to Work Committee (NRTWC) had in coordinating the primary elections for state legislature in Montana.  As a 501(c)4 “social welfare” group the NRTWC cannot engage in “direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.”  Yet the uncovered documents, tens of thousands of pages in total, show that the group was deeply and directly involved in primary campaigns.  

The treasure trove of documents was analyzed by John S. Adams of the Montana Free Press:

Emails, documents, and affidavits recently obtained by Montana’s commissioner of political practices paint a detailed picture of how the national anti-union group oversaw the activities of American Tradition Partnership (ATP), the group at the center of allegations of illegal third-party influence in Montana Republican primary campaigns in 2008, 2010, and 2012.

The documents, obtained by Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl, reveal a direct link between NRTWC officials, the WTP/ATP, and political campaigns.  They show that the ATP was not an independent advocacy organization as it claimed, but part of a massive, well-connected campaign that was fueled by dark money. The mission, of changing the political makeup of the Montana Legislature, was downright unsavory.  Part of the reason the NRTWC was so interested in Montana is because it is one of the few western states that does not have a “Right-to-Work” law.

The smoking gun belongs to Christian LeFer, who was the director of Montana Citizens for Right to Work. He ran two political nonprofits in Montana, including the Western Tradition Partnership (WTP).  In 2010, the WTP changed its name to the American Tradition Partnership (ATP), according to Commissioner Motl:

“Christian LeFer was here as a field operative for National Right to Work. Once you get there, then National Right to Work’s central role is more apparent,” Motl said. “I don’t think you can underestimate the significance, or the threat, that a coordinated, funded, centralized corporate-takeover of candidates poses (to elections).”

The NRTWC spent over $42 million between 1999 and 2016 lobbying the Senate for a national Right-to-work law, according to the U.S. Senate Lobbying Disclosure Database.  Among the top Washington lobbyists for the NRTWC was Demitri Kesari.  The new documents show that Kesari, acting as political director of the NRTWC, along with the organization’s Executive Director Jedd Coburn, were in direct contact with operatives — including LeFer — and provided materials to assist individual political campaigns.

This is not the first time that LeFer and his group have made headlines for their illegal involvement in political campaigns.  In 2012, an investigative report from ProPublica and FRONTLINE found a box of documents in a Colorado meth house detailing illegal coordination between the ATP and conservative candidates.  At the time, investigator Julie Steab of the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices said: “My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that WTP was running a lot of these campaigns.”

Commissioner Motl made the documents public to reporters in response to information requests by both the Montana Free Press and the Bozeman Daily-Chronicle.  Some of the documents in the emails that tie NRTWC to WTP/ATP’s activities include:

• Emails showing NRTWC’s executive director, Jedd Coburn, wrote the text of “issue letters” on behalf of Montana Republican legislative candidates;
• Emails showing Christian and Allison LeFer, a.k.a. Allie Andrews, and their staff were in regular communication with Coburn and other NRTWC staff and officers regarding WTP/ATP campaign activities;
• Emails showing that Dimitri Kesari, who was the director of NRTWC’s government affairs department, conducted candidate training seminars in Bozeman for ATP-vetted candidates, and a “Campaign Training School” in a Chicago suburb for NRTWC field staff, which Christian LeFer attended;
• Emails showing the LeFers and other WTP/ATP staff worked with Kesari on various projects, including a candidate “target list”;
• Written statements indicating that ATP/WTP staffers were paid by NRTWC, and that Kesari “ultimately cuts checks” to LeFer and other ATP staffers;
• A sworn affidavit by former NRTWC employee Dennis Fusaro stating that NRTWC sent four staffers to Montana to work for LeFer in 2010;
• A sworn statement by Fusaro that the NRTWC staff, provided “labor, skilled services (e.g. computer work, copy writing), printing, mail preparation, and equipment usage for the benefit of candidates at reduced costs and even, at times, free.”
• A sworn statement by Fusaro that NRTWC ran, and paid for, a direct mail program and conducted phone banking on behalf of candidates;
• Emails showing that NRTWC communications director Jeremy Dahl provided “walk lists” and “issue id’d lists” and other valuable voter information to candidates.

The documents are part of an upcoming trial in which Commissioner Motl is suing Rep. Art Wittich in Helena District Court, alleging that Wittich broke Montana campaign finance laws by accepting illegal corporate campaign contributions.  According to Motl, the documents show that the ATP and other groups provided services and coordinated with political campaigns for free or for little cost.  According to Motl:

“The significant thing for Montanans is that in the 2010 Montana Republican primary elections, there was a group that consistently sought privacy with the candidates it was working with, and provided those candidates services that were compensated by paid professional staff with the payment being from the National Right to Work Committee to those staff people.  Those paid staff provided sophisticated, targeted voter id lists for the legislative districts that candidates were running in. They provided walking lists for the candidates. They did graphics for the candidates; they built websites. And the candidates didn’t pay for it.”

The case will go to jury trial on March 28th. 

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