Election 2012: ProPublica, Frontline investigate American Tradition Partnership

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We're not the only ones taking a deeper interest in what American Tradition Partnership is really up to in 2012.

The Colorado-based 501(c)(4) made national headlines earlier in June when it succeeded in seeing Montana's 100-year-old Corrupt Practices Act overturned in the U.S. Supreme Court. Now, ProPublica and PBS's Frontline have dug even deeper, investigating a stack of documents recovered from a Colorado meth house that appear to prove ATP's past illegal collaboration with political campaigns in Montana and Colorado. ProPublica released its report today, shortly after midnight; Frontline will air the story tomorrow evening, Oct. 30, as part of an ongoing series on dark money in politics titled "Big Sky, Big Money".

Frontlines report on dark money in Montana politics airs Oct. 30.
  • Frontline's series on dark money in Montana politics begins Oct. 30.

ATP, formerly known as Western Tradition Partnership, was founded in Montana in 2008 by former Congressman Ron Marlenee and former state Rep. John Sinrud. The nonprofit is now headed by Donny Ferguson, who has also worked on Texas Republican Steve Stockman's U.S. House campaign this year. Initial organizational filings for Friends of Congressman Steve Stockman in April 2012 listed Ferguson as Stockman's campaign treasurer. The files were amended in mid May, and Ferguson's name was dropped from the position.

Aside from its ongoing legal challenge against Montana's campaign contribution limits, ATP has riled Democrats recently with a political mailer disguised as a newspaper called the "Montana Statesman." ATP openly declares it paid for the mailer, touting the faux paper as "Montana's most trusted news source" and listing a return address at a Bozeman post office box. In truth, the mailer is a blatant attack on Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Bullock. The front page declares that "1 in 4 sex offenders go unregistered" due to failure on Bullock's part as the acting Montana Attorney General. There are four pictures below the headline. Three are identified as convicted sex offenders in cutlines; the fourth is an image of Bullock. The insinuation seems fairly obvious.

According to ProPublica's report, the documents at the core of this latest story contain evidence potentially tying ATP not only to a number of past Republican campaigns but to several groups including the Montana Committee to Protect the Unborn and the anti-union Montana Citizens for Right to Work. It's a fascinating read, and personally, we can't wait for the first Frontline report tomorrow night. Watch the teaser below.

Watch Big Sky, Big Money, an investigation with Marketplace on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

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