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ATP faces lawmaker complaints, lawsuit penalties

By Lauren Maschmedt, KTVM Anchor, lmaschmedt@ktvm.com
Published On: Dec 12 2012 11:07:31 PM MST
BOZEMAN, Mont. -

The American Tradition Partnership is no stranger to lawsuits. They've sued, and been sued. But in the latest legal battle, a judge is calling the organization out.

The ATP- formerly the Western Tradition Partnership- sued the state after the Commissioner of Political Practices ordered the conservative group to report its donors and spending.

A district judge asked the WTP to provide some information before trial. When they didn't, he threw out most of the lawsuit.

"There's a lot of concern and growing concern about dark money in the campaigns" said Eric Austin, an MSU Political Science associate professor. "One of the big concerns is transparency and accountability of these groups."

Austin said with the uncertainty around the organization's legitimacy, and whether they engage in illegal political dealings- the failure to comply raises even more questions.

"There's a complaint for them to go forward and look at the records of ATP in Colorado" said Senator Bruce Tutvedt, Republican of Kalispell.

He and Republican Representative John Esp of Big Timber filed complaints with the office of political practices last week against the ATP. He said the organization illegally coordinated with his opponent in the primaries.

"The attacks were all the same- his message, their message- they were all the same" Sen. Tutvedt said. He said he noticed the pro-mailers for his opponent and the ATP mailers not only came from the same address, but sent the same message.

Tutvedt said he hopes the complaint will give investigators a chance to dig deeper into the ATP, and clear everything up.

"I think as this works it's way through the court system, this will establish the precedent and the practices going forward" Austin said.

He said the outcomes of both of these current legal scuffles may end up shaping campaign finance practices in elections to come.

Austin also told us that the ATP's received a lot of attention because of how much money was spent in the last election- but that, in fact, many similar, so-called "dark money" groups exist.

We did reach out to Donald Ferguson, Executive Director of the ATP, but did not hear back.