Op-Ed: Beware of big-buck Easterners testing their theories on us

Published August 28, 2006 in the Great Falls Tribune by Sen. Steve Doherty (Ret.) and Rep. Dave McAlpin Beware the traveling salesman peddling political snakeoil. Montana is overrun with such characters these days -- national organizations dumping money in to our state to influence public opinion and advance their hidden agendas. The most recent and nefarious example in this cycle is the Center for Union Facts, the organization running the vicious ads attacking public employees on our airwaves. The Center refuses to disclose who is financing their ads ”“ anarchistic zealots? politically connected corporations salivating over the prospect of corrupt privatization schemes? ”“ and defend their vitriolic ads as “humorous”? attempts to spread understanding of public issues. But the point of the advertisements is not to educate the viewing the public. Likewise, the “Facts”? in the organization’s name should be taken with a grain of salt. In reality, the Center is a slick lobbying operation run by one of D.C.’s richest operators ”“ a man by the name of Rick Berman. While we know who runs the Center, we have absolutely no idea who is providing the organization’s $8 million annual budget. Rick won’t tell us. That information needs to remain confidential, he claims. In other words, these people will spend millions attacking hard-working Americans they have never met, but they have a right to their own privacy. The Center for Union Facts is hardly alone this election cycle in their attempts to allow a handful of super-rich out-of-staters have a big impact on the political landscape. An outfit named Montanans in Action popped up this year to run three ballot initiatives ”“ one dealing with state spending, one with land-use planning rules, and one with recalling judges ”“ here in Montana. Despite clear laws in Montana requiring that sources of money spent on ballot issues be disclosed to the public, Montanans in Action has basically refused. They’ve refused for a very good reason. Based on the evidence, Montanans in Action would be more appropriately named Montanans as Cover. The money for the organization has not come from Montanans, the initiative ideas did not come from Montanans, and the work is not really being done by Montanans either. Rather, some national groups apparently found some locals to sign some paperwork for them. The main national group goes by the name Americans for Limited Government. Their leadership also maintains and funds a handful of partner organizations, including the Fund for Democracy and America At Its Best. All of the organizations have been steering money here in Montana or elsewhere to impact ballot initiative elections this fall. Fortunately, it appears likely that Montanans will be able to learn at some point who exactly is funding these measures, in part because our state has chosen to adopt some rather strict laws requiring ballot issue organizations to disclose their funding sources. Ironically, the local spokespeople for Montanans in Action ignore these democratically enacted laws, even while claiming their critics are only seeking to deny the will of the voters. Since every good story has to come full circle, it should come as no surprise that the Center for Union Facts is also connected to Americans for Limited Government. The anti-worker ads being run here in Montana and in three other states were rolled out at a recent meeting held by Americans for Limited Government. And the ads are all being run in states where Americans for Limited Government is funding anti-government, spending limit initiatives. In other words, the million dollar media buy being used to denigrate hard-working Americans is all part of the giant anonymously funded plot where a handful of extremely wealthy East Coasters are trying to rewrite the laws of Montana by spending a fortune, if need be. Senator Conrad Burns recently received some much deserved criticism for telling wildland firefighters that they are lazy and overpaid. In this case, the message is the same, but the messenger is not our own Senator and the target is not one group of workers. The messengers are some of the richest people in America, people whose only interest in Montana is to make us all guinea pigs for their public policy experiments. And in addition to attacking firefighters, these new advertisements attack police officers, school teachers, janitors, and a whole host of other hard working Montanans. But we know better -- we Montanans are neither guinea pigs suited for experiments nor lazy bums fit for mockery. And shame on the anonymous big money interests who think otherwise. Steve Doherty is a former minority leader of the Montana senate and the founding co-chair of the Progressive States Network. Dave McAlpin is a state representative.