The Montana media has done a very sloppy job of telling the story of the Montana Democrat Party’s (MDP) extreme effort to remove the Green Party (GP) from all Montana ballots for the 2020 General Election. The misreporting of this story, if it was not just unforgivably sloppy, was a deliberate effort to spin the story to favor the Montana Democrat Party.
While there have been many small reporting errors or omissions, the two giant ones are:
1) the constant suggestion that GP candidates are “fake” candidates because the GP rejected them for endorsement, and
2) the steady drumbeat from story to story that the withdrawal of signatures from the GP qualifying petition was some sort of spontaneous action by concerned petition signers.
Both of these are false and create a far different narrative for the public than what really happened. Unfortunately, both of these false narratives, bolstered by constant media misreporting, were advanced in the lawsuit to strike GP candidates from the ballot. Even more unfortunately, these constructions were accepted by the reviewing court as if they were evidence, with no effective examination. Since these false narratives became a part of what the court considered before deciding to remove GP candidates from the ballot, this sloppy Montana media reporting had real consequences to the people of Montana and to the process and health of democracy.
Let me provide necessary background detail about the two major errors of omission specified above.
1. “Fake” GP candidates.
There was never much organization with the Montana Green Party. That got worse in mid-winter when the two prime GP movers, a husband and wife, resigned from GP leadership and left the state. That left a vacuum in GP leadership. The GP is supposed to hold an annual convention to elect leaders. Whatever individuals remained with the GP considered trying to hold a convention, even a virtual convention (because of COVID), and chose to not have any convention at all in 2020. So, as of the deadline for candidates to file for office in Montana, there was no GP leadership, no effort to select new leadership, and no mechanism to make official decisions for the GP.
Under those conditions, someone who had formerly been involved with the GP and had access to the GP Facebook page posted a comment there that the GP had not endorsed any of the candidates who had filed for office under the GP banner. (“…none of those running under the Montana Green Party ticket this season are actual Greens as far as we can tell…”) The media stories made this sound as if the GP had reviewed filed candidates, had considered them, had found them to be unacceptable, and had rejected them, all with some formal process. This spin or misreporting by the media was echoed and amplified by the MDP, including in their pleadings and oral arguments in their lawsuit to remove the GP from the ballot. Attorneys for the MDP declared more than once in open court that all GP candidates were “fake.” This claim was justified by the media misreporting of just one GP Facebook post by someone with no authority to make GP endorsement decisions.
In truth, when I filed for Senate District 47 as a GP candidate, I tried to reach out to anyone with the Montana GP, but to no avail. I left phone messages for someone to call me. I sent emails asking for contact and discussion. I got no replies. Plus, nobody claiming any position with the Montana GP ever reached out to me to discuss my candidacy, despite my phone number having been posted on the Secretary of State’s website with my filing. Nada. Zero contact.
Meanwhile, I have stellar green credentials, supersufficient for GP qualification, something the GP remnants failed to inquire about before posting to Facebook, and that the MDP avoided learning about when they rushed to label all GP candidates as “fake.” I will append some of my green credentials to the end of this story for any interested reader.
In summary, the Montana GP was leaderless and without anyone officially empowered to make endorsements or to withhold endorsements. Despite this vacuum and without inquiring about my green credentials, somebody posted on the GP Facebook page that the GP had not endorsed any GP candidates. The media reported this as if the GP had disavowed and rejected filed candidates. The MDP amplified this misreporting and continued to feed the narrative that all GP candidates were fake. The reviewing court allowed and accepted these arguments, then struck all GP candidates from the ballot.
2. Miraculous, spontaneous signature withdrawals.
It is helpful for minor or third parties to have “ballot status.” If they achieve that status, then candidates for individual offices don’t need to collect hundreds or thousands of signatures to qualify each candidate to run for each office. Once a party has ballot status, the candidates under that party’s banner must only pay a candidate filing fee and sign up to run for the office.
There are a couple of ways for a minor party to obtain ballot status. One is to run a single candidate for one statewide office. If that candidate gets enough votes in the General Election, then that party is qualified for ballot status in the next two election cycles. The Libertarian Party typically does this by running a candidate for Clerk of the Supreme Court, a statewide elected position. A third party candidate in this low profile race will usually get enough votes to qualify the whole party for ballot status in subsequent election cycles.
Another way for a minor party to gain ballot status is to collect the signatures of eligible voters on petitions. The number of voters must be a minimum number or percentage of voters in 34 of Montana’s 100 legislative districts. This is the method by which the GP was qualified for ballot status in 2020.
When the petitions were turned in and signatures counted, there were enough signatures in enough legislative districts to qualify the GP for the ballot. The SoS announced that the GP was qualified for ballot status on March 6, 2020. After I heard of this announcement, I filed to run for SD 47 as a GP candidate on March 9, 2020.
Subsequently, information began to trickle out (March 24, 2020) that the Montana Republican Party may have paid for the workers who gathered the signatures to qualify the GP for the ballot. Some say that third party candidates bleed votes from major party candidates, and that GP candidates were intended to bleed votes from Democrat candidates in the General Election. The MDP was no stranger to this strategy. It invented the strategy. In a previous election cycle, Democrat supporters pumped half a million dollars into advertising for the Libertarian candidate for the US Senate, which likely bled off enough Republican votes to allow Senator Jon Tester (D) to win that election.
However, who may have paid for gathering signatures to qualify the GP for ballot status was unknown and unreported at the time I filed for office. I certainly didn’t know anything about this. Plus, even if an opposing party pays for such an effort, that is not illegal under Montana law. It is a campaign tactic that the Democrats invented and used before.
In response to the SoS announcement that the GP had achieved ballot status, the MDP launched an extreme effort to get petition signers to withdraw their signatures. By getting petition signers to withdraw, they intended to reduce the number of signatures on GP petitions to below the threshold required for ballot status qualification. Remember, the media continually reported these signature withdrawals as if they happened spontaneously, as if the petition signers just woke up one morning and decided to recant. That’s not how it happened.
When the SoS certified the GP for ballot status on March 6, 2020, he validated 13,000 petition signers as known, registered voters, and as proper petition signers. The MDP mounted a massive campaign of phone calls and letters to get these 13,000 people to withdraw their signatures from the GP qualifying petition. Subsequent contact with some of these people confirms that some of them received as many as 20 separate phone calls and probably three different letters, all from MDP operatives urging them to withdraw from the GP petition.
Suppose those who got 20 phone calls are extreme examples. Suppose an average of only ten phone calls were made to each petition signer in the MDP’s quest for withdrawals. That’s 130,000 phone calls! Suppose it was only five phone calls per signer, rather than the reported high of 20. That’s still 65,000 phone calls; still a massive effort! Suppose each phone call averaged only one minute (very unlikely). That would require over 1,000 hours of phone calling. Then, think of all the hours it took supervisors to organize, coordinate, and track this massive effort. That’s a huge investment of time and effort too.
From reports by petition signers, it seems pretty average that each petition signer received an average of three letters urging them to withdraw their signatures. That’s 39,000 letters! The cost of postage for this alone would be over $20,000, which would not include envelopes, paper, and would not include the labor to write these hand-written letters (copies are in evidence).
Bottom line for withdrawal effort: Getting over 500 petition signers to withdraw from the GP petition was a truly colossal and organized effort by the MDP. Yet the Montana media constantly reported this as if the withdrawals happened spontaneously or accidentally. Was the Montana media just being incredibly lazy, or were “journalists” and news outlets acting as the advertising arm of the MDP to cover up this vast effort and publicize the MDP spin about this?
3. Other issues unreported or under reported.
Denial of intervention. Another large error that occurred in this process, albeit maybe not one of journalistic misfeasance, was that I moved to intervene in the lawsuit that would remove me from the ballot and was denied. The lawsuit was filed by the MDP against the Montana Secretary of State (SoS). The MDP chose to avoid serving any GP candidates with the lawsuit because it didn’t want to incur any GP opposition. When I moved to intervene in order to defend myself, my candidacy, and the GP, the MDP strenuously objected to and opposed my intervention.
The MDP made three arguments to the court against my intervention:
1) that I had no legal interest in the case,
2) that my intervention attempt was not timely, and
3) that the SoS adequately represented my interest.
Their first argument was obviously so far-fetched as to be stupid. Of course I had a legal interest in the case. It was a life-and-death matter to my candidacy. In their second argument, they claimed that I had had “several months” to intervene but had elected to wait until late in order to delay the case. I pointed out that my Motion to Intervene was filed only 47 days after the MDP filed its lawsuit, and that if 47 days were seen as “several months” that would involve a very strange corruption of language. Finally, as to the MDP’s third argument, I asserted that the SoS had no duty to defend me or my candidacy, but only to speak for the State of Montana generally and defend his actions as SoS – that I should be allowed into the lawsuit to defend myself.
In retrospect, it seems apparent that the judge knew where he wanted to go in deciding this lawsuit. This was the same judge who had stricken the GP from the ballot upon MDP request in the previous election cycle. Not wanting any impediments to getting where he wanted to end up, the judge denied my motion to intervene so that no GP candidates were involved in the lawsuit. The judge accepted the MDP arguments that I should be excluded from the lawsuit. Then he quickly released his decision (possibly written by the MDP) prohibiting the SoS from including any GP candidates on the November ballot.
Expense of MDP litigation; dark money. The MDP engaged a local law firm to handle the litigation designed to remove the GP from the ballot. Not trusting local talent to have sufficient skill or to be able handle the workload, the MDP also engaged the giant Seattle law firm of Perkins Coie. Perkins Coie claims on its Website to be the 16th largest law firm in the U.S. Perkins Coie claims to have 20 offices across the U.S. and in Asia, over 1,100 lawyers employed, and over 300 lawyers in its Seattle office alone.
These lawyers produced thousands of pages of pleadings for the lawsuits to prevent Montana voters from being able to vote for GP candidates. The pleadings (all in the public record) were always well researched, well written, thoroughly cited, and came very quickly. It is unknown how many of their 1,100 lawyers Perkins Coie had assigned to this project, but it was plenty. This MDP effort was clearly a team effort for the lawyers at Perkins Coie. It included listed-by-name lawyers from their offices in Seattle, Portland, Denver, and D.C., and certainly a host of unnamed lawyers. A vast number of “billable hours” was applied by Perkins Coie to this MDP effort. Billing rates are unknown, but probably range from $500 to $1,000 per hour, depending on which staff lawyers participated and logged billable hours.
Other attorneys familiar with this MDP litigation offer a rough estimate that the cost of this massive legal effort could run as high as $10 million. The actual costs are not disclosed by the MDP, nor is the information available about who may be paying this giant legal bill. Because of loopholes in the Montana political expense reporting laws, the MDP is not required to report how much money has been spent to prevent Montana voters from being able to vote for GP candidates. This may be a classic example of “dark money” involvement in politics.
Lawsuits clarification. Originally, the MDP filed suit in Montana state district court in Helena against the SoS. The state district court judge denied my attempt at intervention and also the intervention attempts by affected others. This judge ruled in favor of the MDP and ordered the SoS to not include GP candidates on the November, General Election ballot. The SoS appealed this decision to the Democrat-leaning Montana Supreme Court, which rubber-stamped the decision by the state district court. The SoS then appealed the MSC decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which appeal was denied by Justice Elana Kagan, an Obama nominee who is the assigned gatekeeper at the U.S. Supreme Court for appeals from the supreme courts of Montana and a few other states.
After the state district court excluded me and ruled on the state lawsuit, and anticipating likely no relief from the Montana Supreme Court, GP Attorney General candidate Royal Davis and I filed a different suit in federal district court, asking the federal judge to trump the state judge based on federal voting rights issues raised in this new federal suit. The MDP moved to intervene in that lawsuit and was granted intervention (remember, they opposed my intervention in their state court lawsuit and my intervention was denied). The MDP argued that the federal judge should not reverse the state judge. The federal judge agreed with the MDP and ruled against us, thereby upholding the decision of the state court judge. We appealed that decision by this federal judge to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. A three-judge “motions panel” of the Ninth Circuit denied our request for emergency relief. That decision has now been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it has once again been subject to consideration by gatekeeping Justice Elana Kagan, but this time based on federal voting rights issues. Justice Kagan denied Supreme Court consideration on Monday, September 14th.
One might suppose that Montana voters would be interested in these untold parts of the story. However, the primary gatekeeper for public information in Montana, the Montana media, has, by error or omission, determined that the voting public in Montana is best left in the dark about the extreme efforts by the MDP to prevent any competition in the marketplace of political ideas – to not expose Democrats for being so undemocratic. The MDP has a monopoly of sorts, and it appears the assumed role of the media is to aid the MDP in preserving as much of that monopoly and power as possible. The Montana media aided this by fostering the notion that all GP candidates were “fake.”
Note: Fox news did cover part of this story in its national news: https://www.foxnews.com/politics/dems-green-party-montana-senate-ballot
Also see The Hill TV report at: https://youtu.be/Jw4sOLfeHng
A curious reader might wonder why the MDP would go to such a huge effort to get the GP off the ballot. Why would the MDP spend up to $10 million, make as many as 65,000 phone calls (maybe more), and write 39,000 letters in this effort? Great question. It appears that the MDP believes (whether or not it’s true) that the presence of a GP candidate on the ballot could bleed as many as 30,000 Democrat votes from U.S. Senate candidate Steve Bullock, who is trying desperately to replace sitting Montana Senator Steve Daines. It would be very difficult, maybe impossible, for Bullock to overcome that vote loss. Plus, the majority power in the U.S. Senate may be at stake in this one race. That would certainly be motive enough for national Democrats or global interests to mount, orchestrate, and pay for such an extreme effort on behalf of the MDP.
The Montana media has not been able to avoid touching on the theme of Democrat votes at risk, but has done little to follow the money or explain how this massive national or global battle being fought out in Montana and the courts. Perhaps the voters of Montana should just not be bothered with any such information or explanations, according to the Montana media.
That, as Paul Harvey would say, is the rest of the story.