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Locals weigh in on Montana political practices controversy

By Lauren Maschmedt, KTVM Anchor, lmaschmedt@ktvm.com
Published On: Oct 31 2012 12:30:14 AM MDT

The Montana Commission on Political Practices (COPP) has pulled public access to controversial documents after allegations they were stolen, before being found in a Colorado meth house.

Those documents apparently reveal shady dealings by the American Tradition Partnership (ATP), a group that is fighting against Montana's campaign finance laws.

The PBS program Frontline examined those documents during a special Tuesday night, saying they point to illegal coordination between the non-profit ATP and conservative candidates.

Commissioner of Political Practices Jim Murry told us on Tuesday they acquired the documents a couple years ago, but recently pulled them from public record- pending a district court judgement on the issue.

"The reason that we're being so careful with all of this, is this could very well be part of a criminal investigation" he said.

The ATP said the COPP is guilty of trafficking stolen property across state lines- and wants the FBI to investigate.

Donald Ferguson, Executive Director with the ATP told us in an email the "COPP has illegally held these documents for nearly two years and found no wrongdoing" and if they found nothing wrong, "why have they never acted?"

Ferguson then went on to explain "The fact they reviewed them and refused to act proves, once again, ATP always obeys the law."

"I just find the whole thing really hypocritical" said Bozeman photographer Ashley Stevick.

Stevick supports Initiative 166, defending Montana's campaign finance laws against legal challenges- like those brought by the ATP. She said there's a lot at stake.

"You have big money buying these elections and buying politicians, buying their policies" she said, adding "I firmly believe that the policies that come out of that are not going to be good for everyday Montanans."

If the ATP has illegally coordinated with political candidates, it would call into question the organization's legitimacy.

But the ATP strongly defends its practices, and said it's the COPP that needs to be questioned- and in fact they're asking the FBI to do that.

Ferguson said they told the FBI the COPP and unnamed Colorado politicians engaged in interstate trafficking of stolen property when they acquired those documents.

The COPP plans to make the documents available to the public after a district court makes a judgement.