Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Schweitzer revs 2016 presidential bid buzz with trip to Iowa

Brian Schweitzer speaks at the Harkin Steak Fry in 2008.

Former Gov. Brian Schweitzer doesn’t like to be out of the national headlines for very long.

For a guy who claims he’s simply content to run Stillwater Mining Co. and enjoy the view from his Georgetown Lake home, Schweitzer sure seems intent on fueling speculation that his sights are set on the White House.

In an interview published this week in the Weekly Standard, Schweitzer reiterated his fondness for the people of Iowa,  home to the nation’s first presidential primary contest, and he said he plans to visit all 99 counties there.

*Wink, wink.

The former governor also took shots at former First Lady, former Secretary of State, and 2008 Democratic presidential nominee runner-up Hillary Clinton, the presumptive front-runner for the party’s nomination in 2016.

Schweitzer speculated if Clinton were the Democratic Party’s nominee she  might “shift hard right on Day 1.”

“We can’t afford any more hard right,” Schweitzer said. “We had eight years of George Bush. Now we’ve had five years of Obama, [who], I would argue, in many cases has been a corporatist.”


Calling Obama a “corporatist” and implying that Clinton would be a right-winger is one way to grab headlines in Iowa, where a recent Des Moines Register poll found that Schweitzer and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley “are little more than footnotes” to Iowa voters.

“At this time, they are simply fictitious names to most Iowa Democrats,” Republican strategist John Brabender told the Register. “You could make up names, and they would have roughly the same favorable/unfavorable scores as Schweitzer and O’Malley.”

If you’re former governor from a small conservative state in the Northern Rockies with ideas about pursuing the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2016, then generating headlines and the attention of Clinton and Obama supporters  might be the way to go.

The game is to create some buzz early, to generate grassroots momentum in places where it matters, and to show the party’s base that you’re the outsider who appeals to their core Democratic Party principles.

Schweitzer's actual record as governor probably means little to Democratic activists in Iowa. What he says about the establishment and how he appeals to their world view right now is what matters today.

Schweitzer may be a farmer and a soil scientist, but he ain’t no rube. This politics thing is a game Schweitzer knows well.

Schweitzer’s been honing his headline-grabbing prowess since he took on Republican Sen. Conrad Burns in the 2002 U.S. Senate race. Back then the political newbie dumped suitcases full of cash on the floor of the state Capitol to illustrate Burns’ ties to out-of-state corporate donors.

The tactic captured the imagination of voters across the state who liked his folksy, straight-talking brashness. Schweitzer, a previously unknown mint-farmer from the Flathead Valley, came within three points of unseating the incumbent Burns. He then parlayed that strong  campaign into a 2004 gubernatorial bid which earned him two terms as Montana’s chief executive.

Schweitzer, who twice spoke at the Democratic National Convention, decided against running for retiring Democratic U.S. Senator Max Baucus’ seat. But he has never said he doesn’t want to pursue higher office. 

Many of us who have watched Schweitzer closely over the years had difficulty imagining Schweitzer playing nice in the U.S. Senate as one member out of a hundred.

But the Presidency… that’s a different story.

It’s the ultimate challenge for a politician who loves to mix things up and who revels in the national spotlight. Even if he just toys around with the idea for a while, Schweitzer no-doubt loves the attention.

For me the bottom line is Schweitzer knows that if an insurgent campaign against a pillar of the Democratic establishment is even a remote possibility in his future, then Iowa’s the place to start and now’s probably the time to get started.

This week Schweitzer lobbed a few stones in Iowa’s political pond to see what kind of waves they would make. His comments are rippling through news feeds and Twittersphere of the the national political pundit class, which is probably exactly what he was hoping for.

Tonight the former Montana governor is scheduled to address the liberal grassroots group Progress Iowa. Follow @JennerJJacobs on Twitter for updates from that speech.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

When do violent gun threats become acts of terrorism? Perhaps never in Montana…

In Sept. 2009 comedian Joe Lipari returned to his New York apartment after spending several hours at a nearby Apple Store. Lipari went to the store to get his malfunctioning iPhone fixed, but when the concierges ignored him for hours, the frustrated Lipari returned home and flipped on the tube.

As Lipari tells the story the movie “Fight Club” was on. There’s a scene in the film where Edward Norton’s character leaves a copy of the Fight Club rules (you know: The first rule of Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club) on the copy machine.  

In the scene Norton warns his boss to be careful who he talks to about the document he found on the machine or….

“…the button-down, Oxford-cloth psycho might just snap, and then stalk from office to office with an Armalite AR-10 carbine gas-powered semi-automatic weapon, pumping round after round into colleagues and co-workers…”

Lipari, stoned and amused with himself, paraphrased the quote on Facebook but inserted something about the Apple Store concierges in the post.

Soon thereafter he answered a knock at his door and was greeted by fully armed members of the New York City S.W.A.T. team with their MP5 machine guns drawn.

Lipari was charged with making terrorist threats and spent the better part of the next two years in court trying to clear his name.

So what does this anecdote have to do with Montana? 

I bring it up because it makes me wonder what’s going to happen to Steve Connly, the Montana man who not only sent “hate mail” (his words) to the Helena-based Alliance for the Wild Rockies in which he specifically threatened gun violence, but who also has a habit of threatening the President of the United States on his Facebook page:


Connly fb threat 1image

“Should be anti obama armory.. Barack Obama Thats right pretty nigger, millions more where these came from, just you wait.. your day will come.. and an fyi, I do not call you nigger simply because you are black.. It is because you fit the TRUE definition of a NIGGER.. Which SLAVES used to call the MASTERS before they were freed. Thats right you are a true NIGGER.”

And then there’s this gem:

Connly fb threat 2

“An fyi, I am probably going to be kicked off facebook again very soon. Been trolling obama's page and saying many things which should get him ticked off. Serves him right. I say execute that bastard AT the WWII memorial that he has thrown such a big fit about keeping us away from. FEDERAL LAND IS OUR LAND NOT YOURS YOU GREEDY BASTARD and you cannot keep us out of it. WE pay your overly extravagant paycheck, now WE need to hold you accountable for your actions AGAINST the constitution and AGAINST the american people. DO NOT BE FOOLED SHEEPLE, if he is not impeached this year we will have civil war. His actions prove this point. When he doesn't get his way, he throws a fit and takes it out on american people. WE WILL PUSH BACK mark my words little man, your day will come.”

How do I know the Steve Connly who made these Facebook threats against the President is the same guy who wrote to the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and said he would “love the chance” to use guns on them?

Because he admitted it on the Montana Logging Facebook page:



After the Tribune published the story of Connly’s threat, a few like-minded souls took to the Trib’s comment section to pile on the treats:


Mike Prester, of Belgrade, thinks a “shooting would be to [sic] good!!!!”


So all of this has got me wondering…. if a New York City comedian can be charged with making terrorist threats and spend the better part of two years in court for posting a paraphrased movie quote on his Facebook page, what happens to Montanans who not only make specific threats of violence against individuals, but also generalized violent threats against the President of the United States?

It’s not hard to imagine that those on the receiving end of threats of deadly force –- or their families -- are terrified. Or at least that is the intention of the threat, isn’t it?


FBI spokeswoman Patricia Speelman declined via email to comment on the status of the case other than to say:

“The FBI takes threats very seriously and investigates them thoroughly with the assistance of our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners.”

For those who might be tempted to dismiss these threatening comments as “just talk,” consider the following:

According to environmental investigative group Global Witness, more than 700 environmental activists, journalists and community members were murdered worldwide between 2002-2011.

In Montana environmentalists and conservation advocates know too-well the threat of violence.

As former Missoula Independent reporter Carlotta Grandstaff reported in 2001, they’ve had their homes shot-at, burned down and vandalized:

“In the Bitterroot, at least one environmentalist has received death threats for his opposition to timber sales. Someone fired shots at another activist’s house, leaving bullet holes in a fence. The home of yet another activist was burned to the ground in a mysterious fire. Still another activist was thrown off his job when his employer learned of his involvement with environmental politics. At a public meeting on a grizzly reintroduction plan in Salmon, Idaho, one pro-grizzly speaker was booed and jeered while someone from the audience yelled, ‘get a rope.’ Then, of course, there’s the suspicious death earlier this year of Flathead Valley activist Tary Mocabee.”

In 2001 Flathead Valley activist and Tary Mocabee mysteriously drowned in a shallow creek near her home. Mocabee’s friends told producers for the PBS documentary “The Fire Next Time” that some in the environmental community suspected foul play based on Mocabee’s environmental and social activism.

And lets not forget the not-too-distant past when a group of anti-government extremists from Connly’s neck of the woods plotted to murder a long list of public officials from cops to judges to dog catchers. The Project 7 day of reckoning was supposed to commence on Earth Day.

The alleged “mastermind” of Project 7 plot, David Burgert, is still missing after disappearing into the woods near the Montana-Idaho border after a shootout with police.

There’s plenty room for civil debate and disagreement about forest and wildlife management, health care, foreign and domestic policy, etc. But when the debate degrades to threats of physical violence, we have lost our way.

In America, and in Montana, civilized citizens settle their differences within the confines of the rules we agreed to through our representative democracy.

When someone steps outside those rules, when they resort to threats of violence in order to intimidate and violate the rights of those they disagree with, they should be met with those agreed upon rules and in short order.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Lummi Totem Pole multimedia

(Editor’s note: this post contains the recently published story on the Northern Cheyenne and Lummi Indians’ fight against coal, including video and a 360° interactive panoramic photograph of the Otter Creek Valley.)

OTTER CREEK -- Sitting just a few hundred feet from the banks of Otter Creek, on the fertile plains the Northern Cheyenne Indians have called home for thousands of years, Sundance Priest Kenneth Medicine Bull carefully packs tobacco into the bowl of a ceremonial pipe.

About a hundred onlookers, many wearing red T-shirts with the words “Save Otter Creek” stamped on them, watch silently as Medicine Bull rhythmically recites a prayer in his native tongue. Medicine Bull puffs the pipe several times, and then with his free hand washes the smoke over face and head. He then gently touches the pipe to the ground, turns it, and then hands it to his son, J.D. Little White Man, who repeats the ritual.

Among the onlookers are five members of the Lummi Nation, an Indian tribe from Washington’s Puget Sound, who traveled some 1,200 miles to this remote prairie not far from where Gen. George Armstrong Custer famously made his last stand nearly 140 years ago.

The Lummi brought with them a 22-foot totem pole hand-carved from a 300-year-old Western redcedar tree so that Medicine Bull could offer it a blessing. The Lummi people have created a tradition of carving and delivering totem poles to areas struck by disaster or otherwise in need of hope and healing.

The Lummi, like the Northern Cheyenne, are fighting for the future of their homelands against coal mining and exportation. The totem pole, known as a healing totem, began its spiritual journey at Otter Creek on Wednesday. It’s the first stop on Pacific Northwest trek to North Vancouver, British Columbia, where it will eventually stand as a cross-border symbol of spiritual solidarity in the fight against industrial resource extraction of coal and oil sands.

“We need to protect our way of life,” Medicine Bull said in an interview after he blessed the Lummi totem pole on the first stop of its spiritual journey. “I addressed the grandfathers, those who have gone before us, and I told them the reason we were here and I asked them to hear our prayer and stand beside us.”

Standing beside the Northern Cheyenne and the Lummi at the totem blessing ceremony were area ranchers. Many ranchers in the region are fighting against coal development, citing the loss of prime agriculture land. They’re also angered by possibility that land that has been in many of their families for more than a century could be condemned to develop the proposed Tongue River Railroad.

Roger Sprague and his wife, Bonnie, ranch near Greenleaf Creek, not far from Colstrip.

Sprague said his family trailed into the Rosebud Valley in 1881 and have traded with the Northern Cheyenne ever since.

“We’re neighbors with these people and we’re proud to work with these people,” Sprague said at the Otter Creek blessing ceremony. “We don’t want this mine in here. We don’t want the railroad in here. It’s our life. We’ve fought hard to put it together and we’d like to keep it that way.”

Brad Sauer manages a ranch north of Lame Deer, just outside the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation boundary. The ranch is home to ancient teepee rings, hunting points, rock engravings and other signs that native people occupied this area long before European settlers arrived.

Sauer said it’s no wonder the Northern Cheyenne settled this part of the country with its verdant stream bottoms, abundant game, and rich grassland. It’s the same reason ranchers have survived here for nearly 150 years.

“We’re looking at country here that could be impacted by coal mining,” Sauer said during an interview on the ranch earlier in the day. “There are coal mines close to here.”

Sauer said ranchers raise food on these lands, and they can’t do that without ample supplies of clean water. Industrial mining operations could threaten both the quantity and the the quality of the water that nurtures these valleys.

“It’s getting to be harder and harder with the impacts from energy development and everything else,” Sauer said. “We’re not against coal mining, we think it can be done responsibly, but we’d like to see it done in a way that doesn’t affect what we do in a long-term fashion.”

Many people see Otter Creek as ground zero in the battle over the future of coal development in America. If Otter Creek coal is ever to be mined, then its probable its final domestic destination will be a coal export terminals on the West Coast.

One of those terminals is proposed to be built on the Lummi people’s ancestral homeland, a place called Cherry Point. From there the coal would head to Asian markets.

Natural gas and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are making coal less desirable as an energy source here in the United States. Arch Coal, the company who bought the leases to mine coal at Otter Creek, admitted that fact in recent filings with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission.

“Gas-fueled generation has the potential to displace coal-fueled generation, particularly from older, less efficient coal-powered generators,” Arch Coal President and CEO John W. Eaves wrote in the company’s March 1, SEC 10-K filing. “We expect that many of the new power plants needed in the United States to meet increasing demand for electricity generation will be fueled by natural gas because gas-fired plants are cheaper to construct and permits to construct these plants are easier to obtain as natural gas is seen as having a lower environmental impact than coal-fueled generators.”

So Arch is now looking to sell its coal elsewhere, which likely means shipping it overseas to Asian markets.

That prospect is of great concern to the Lummi people, who would be directly impacted by the development of a massive coal export terminal.

Jewell Praying Wolf James is a Lummi Nation master carver and tribal leader who designed and crafted the healing totem pole. He and four members of the Lummi House of Tears Carvers brought the totem pole to Montana for the ceremony. James’ healing totem poles have been raised at sites throughout the country, including the sites of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

James said like the Northern Cheyenne, the Lummi people’s way of life and ancestral range grounds, including ancient burial grounds, are threatened by the prospect of coal export to Asia.

“We’re concerned about protecting the environment as well as people’s health all the way from the Powder River to the West Coast,” James said. “We’re traveling across country to help unify people’s voice. It doesn’t matter who you are, or where you’re at, or what race you are — red, black, white or yellow — we’re all in this world together and we have to live in the aftermath of corporate development.”

Lummi Nation member and House of Tears carver Romona Charles said the proposed coal export terminal at Cherry Point would impact human health, destroy fish habitat, and disrupt sacred Lummi burial grounds.

“The terminal that they want to build ... is right on top of an ancestral burial site,” Charles said. “It was an old village and it’s a known grave site. My people are from there. I truly believe that if you allow these white corporations to stomp on one grave, they’ll dance on all the rest. There has not been one time thought I thought, ‘let’s go put a coal port at Arlington Cemetery.’”

After the prayer, James addressed the 100 or so people who gathered for the ceremony.

“We’re doing everything we can to protect our treaty rights and our way of life,” James said.

James offered a sharp rebuke of corporate greed and industrial-scale resource extraction that threatens the homelands and ways of life of people who have occupied these impacted landscapes for millennia.

“We kill the Earth as if we had a license to do it. We destroy the life on it as if we were superior. And yet deep inside we know we can’t live without it,” James said. “We’re all a part of creation, and we have to find our spot in the circle of life.”

The Lummi totem pole traveled to Missoula on Thursday and on to Spokane on Friday. It was schedule to make its way accross eastern Washington and northern Oregon and arrive in Portland, Ore. today. Later this week it heads back north to Seattle.

On Friday the Lummi will bless the totem pole at Xwe’chi’eXen, the Lummi name for the Cherry Point area. On Sunday the totem makes the final leg of its journey to Tsleil-Waututh blessing ceremony in North Vancouver, British Columbia.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Barry Beach’s full clemency application!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_635/barry-beach.jpg

In response to reader interest I’ve scanned and posted Barry Beach’s entire 413-page clemency application.

As most Lowdown readers know, Beach is once again appealing to the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole, this time asking them to commute his 100-year, no-parole sentence.

More than 200 people wrote letters to the board on Beach’s behalf, including Sen. Jon Tester, former Sen. Conrad Burns, and Billings Mayor Tom Hanel.

Below is a DocumentCloud including the entire clemency application. To view and download the file (57 mb) in a separate window click here.

The letters begin on page 73.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Allegations against former Montana Highway Patrol chief uglier than previously revealed

According to an email Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Glenn Quinnell sent to a superior officer in Aug. 2011, former MHP chief Col. Kenton Hickethier’s comments and behavior at a law enforcement conference in Arizona were pretty obscene.

I’m publishing the entire civil rights complaint case file below in DocumentCloud format so you can read it for yourself. I highlighted some of the most offensive content. WARNING: The documents contain obscene language that may offend some readers.

As the Tribune reported on Sept. 11, Quinnell accused Hickethier of sexual harassment, ordering state troopers to make illegal arrests and making racist comments, and then retaliating against him after he brought Hickethier’s actions to the attention of his superiors.

Hickethier retired from MHP on Aug. 30 after his comments were revealed to Montana Attorney General Tim Fox’s office. Fox’s spokesman said Fox did not ask Hickethier to resign, but Hickethier offered up his retirement citing his inability to lead by example after making such “inappropriate” comments.

Fox appointed Hickethier in January 2013. Fox’s spokesman said Hickethier’s application, references and reputation gave the hiring team no indication that they ought to check out his personnel file.

According to the state’s response to Quinnell’s allegations, the now-retired MHP chief doesn’t deny he said and did the things Quinnell alleges, including making a seriously offensive comment about Quinnell’s wife, making a racist statement about Quinnell havening dinner with black troopers from another state, and a mean-spirited “joke” about an overweight speaker at the conference.


The state Department of Justice, in a 19-page response, admits to the majority of Quinnell’s allegations about Hickethier’s behavior, but denies Hickethier retaliated against Quinnell.

The state denies that Quinnell was “passed over” for promotion. The state argues Quinnell was not promoted because he was not among the most qualified and highest-scoring applicants for the various positions.



(Click this box on the DocumentCloud viewers below to view the documents in a separate window.)

Here is Quinnell’s amended human rights complaint:

Here’s the state’s response to Quinnell’s complaint, which includes the email Quinnell sent to his superiors in Aug. 2011. WARNING: This is the document that contains the offensive language. Viewer discretion is advised.

Here’s Quinnell’s rebuttal to the state’s response:

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Video of Westboro Baptist Church’s unsuccessful Montana demonstration

(Editor’s note: Some readers have reported difficulty viewing the Tribune videos embedded in this blog. As a courtesy I uploaded a YouTube version as well as the complete story from Monday’s demonstration. Please visit for more great news videos from around Montana. )

BOZEMAN - A handful of sign-waving acolytes of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church did not find a receptive audience on the campus of Montana State University in Bozeman on Monday afternoon.

Hundreds of people from across Montana’s vast geographical, political and social spectrum descended upon the controversial demonstrators to counter the group’s message that God is punishing the United States for tolerating lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents.

Westboro Baptist Church is famous for picketing the funerals of fallen soldiers with messages such as “Thank God for IEDs.” More recently they made headlines by claiming the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School was God’s work.

The church, which has been widely condemned by religious leaders, veterans groups and human rights groups for more than a decade, announced earlier this year that it planned to picket MSU and Bozeman High School.

Approximately five Westboro demonstrators stood on a corner across from Veterans Memorial Park holding signs. However, the demonstrators and their signs were barely visible through the throngs of counter-demonstrators who quickly surrounded and obstructed the view of the Westboro picketers.

Robbie Regennitter of Great Falls was with a group called Patriot Guard Riders. The Patriot Guard Riders travel to Westboro demonstrations around the United States to show support for America and to denounce hate.

“I don’t think anybody needs to be preaching hate,” Reggennitter said. “There’s enough hate in the world already.”

A group of motorcyclists from the Patriot Guard Riders and a pair of men in a muscle car did laps in front of the Westboro picketers, revving their loud engines and drawing huge cheers from the raucous crowd.

Many counter-demonstrators and those gathered at a nearby anti-hate rally just a few hundred yards away on the campus grounds wore T-shirts and held signs denouncing Westboro’s message.

MSU Junior Matt Morris of Greeley, Colo., donned a homemade T-shirt that read “I’m a Christian and God Loves this Campus.”

Morris said Westboro’s teachings run counter to true Christian principles.

“I came out here today to support a positive image of Christians,” Morris said.

The anti-hate rally drew even more people than the anti-Westboro picketers as hundreds gathered to hear speakers talk about equality, acceptance and dignity for the LGBT community.

Event organizer Jamee Greer of the Montana Human Rights Network said Westboro’s unwanted presence created an opportunity to have a conversation about the broader movement for equality for LGBT Montanans.

Greer said Montanans sometimes lose sight of the fact that unlike other parts of the country where the LGBT community enjoys many of the same rights as heterosexual residents, Montana only recently struck language from its code books making it illegal to be gay.

Greer said Westboro’s appearance in the state gives Montanans a good opportunity to examine issues like dignity, safety, security and fairness for all.

“I think groups like Westboro Baptist Church coming to town give us an opportunity to talk about where discrimination exists and how we can work together to end it,” Greer said.

Dr. Jay Smith, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Bozeman, addressed rally-goers. Smith said the Westboro Baptist Church does not represent the true teachings of the Baptist Church.

“You need to know that by some definition I, too, am a religious nut job, just of a different sort,” Smith said. “As a follower of Christ, I believe that God loves everyone: red, yellow, black, brown, white, gay, lesbian, transgender, straight, drunks, drug abusers, gossips, musicians, religious people, atheists, athletes, nerds, educated intellectualists and homespun country folks. Everyone.”

Rabbi Ed Stafman, of the Congregation Beth Shalom of Bozeman, is the acting chairman of the Gallatin Valley Interfaith Coalition.

Stafman said the rally was aimed at showing the world that Bozeman does not tolerate hate toward any group or people.

“This is a gathering to make the affirmative statement that Bozeman is a place where we tolerate diversity, and we seek equality,” Stafman said. “It doesn’t matter who the victim du jour may be.”

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Highway patrol chief disciplined in 2008 and 2011 for inappropriate comments

The recently retired chief of the Montana Highway Patrol was disciplined in 2008 and 2011 for inappropriate comments he made to subordinates under his command.

Col. Kenton Hickethier announced Friday that he is retiring effective Sept. 30 after just seven months on the job.

According to memos contained in Hickethier’s personnel file, the former captain was twice officially reprimanded for violating Montana Highway Patrol policy, which requires officers to “treat supervisors, subordinates, and associates with respect and courtesy.”

The incidents came to light in the wake of a discrimination complaint filed against Hickethier earlier this summer.

The first incident occurred in March 7, 2008. According to the disciplinary memo in Hickethier’s file, on that date Hickethier told a female trooper that other troopers were upset with her and, “If she were a man they would take her behind the woodshed.”

A second incident occurred the week of Aug. 16, 2011, at a law enforcement meeting in Phoenix.

According to his personnel file, at that event Hickethier made inappropriate comments “in regard to the age of (an unidentified trooper’s) spouse, a joke in regard to a female instructor’s weight, and a comment about (an unidentified trooper) having dinner with black troopers from North Carolina.”

According to the memos, Hickethier “took responsibility” for his comments.

John Barnes, a spokesman for Attorney General Tim Fox, said the disciplinary records came to light after a Montana Highway Patrol employee filed a discrimination complaint against Hickethier with the Montana Department of Labor and Industry’s Human Rights Bureau. Fox’s office was notified of the complaint July 10.

“In preparing our response to that complaint we became aware of the fact that Col. Hickethier, prior to being named colonel, had been disciplined for two instances of making inappropriate comments to troopers,” Barnes said.

Barnes said the decision to retire was entirely Hickethier’s.

“The Attorney General’s Office did not ask him to retire,” Barnes said.

Barnes said Hickethier notified Fox’s office Wednesday of his decision. 

“I regret that I have made inappropriate remarks to subordinates that have compromised my ability to effectively lead Montana’s Highway Patrol by example. Therefore, I have chosen to retire from the patrol,” Hickethier said in a written statement released by Fox’s office Friday. “I am sorry for these mistakes and any harm they may have brought to Montana’s finest law enforcement agency, which has been the center of my life for the last 28 years.”

News of Hickethier’s retirement was held until after Friday afternoon’s graduation ceremony for new Montana Highway Patrol troopers.

“We felt it would not be appropriate for that announcement to interfere with that ceremony,” Barnes said.

Barnes said Fox’s transition team found no red flags while reviewing Hickethier’s application for chief of the Montana Highway Patrol that would have triggered a review of his personnel records.

“During the transition process every applicant for every appointed position was asked if there was anything in their background that was problematic or inappropriate and they were asked for permission, if necessary, to review their personnel record,” Barnes said. “(Hickethier) interviewed very well, he had a very strong resume, and he had absolutely glowing reference checks. Based on all of that there was no reason to believe there was a problem, and so those past incidents referenced in 2008 and 2011 were not known.”

Hickethier is no longer serving for the Montana Highway Patrol and is using up leave time until his official retirement date. His home telephone number is not listed, so he could not be reached for comment.

Monday, August 5, 2013

AP reporters receive threats after Montana attorney general denies records request

Freedom of the press is fundamental to a functioning Democracy.

One of the pillars of a free press is the public’s Right to Know.

Both were threatened last week after Attorney General Tim Fox made a public display of denying an open records request by Associated Press reporter Matt Gouras.

In the days following Fox’s announcement that he would not fulfill the AP’s request for information on concealed carry permit holders in Montana, Gouras and other Montana AP reporters began receiving threats online.

Here are just of the few of the most sinister threats:




In another online forum anonymous commenters posted Gouras’ home address and even a Google Street View photo of Gouras’ house.

The Associated Press declined to comment on the threats.

Fox’s spokesman, John Barnes, said in a statement that the Attorney General’s Office was not aware of any threats made against AP reporters or their families.

“If employees of the Associated Press – or any citizens – have received threats, they should contact their city police department or county sheriff office,” Barnes said via email. “The Montana Department of Justice can assist in investigations when requested by local authorities.”

This all stemmed from Gouras’ March 18  request for public information on current concealed carry permit holders, including, but not limited to, last name, first name, middle name, street address, city,  employer, age or date of birth, driver’s license number, date of application.

Earlier this year the Montana Legislature passed a law, which Gov. Steve Bullock signed, barring the state from reveal information on concealed weapons permit holders to the press or the public. The law is set to take effect on Oct. 1. The AP made the request before the law had even passed before it was signed into law.

In a July 17 memo Fox denied Gouras’ request for the information citing the Montana Constitution’s privacy provisions. Rather than send Gouras notice denying the request and move on as is customary, Fox chose to grandstand and go on a media blitz, talking about his decision on’s Cam & Co. radio show, as well as making appearances on local television and radio news stations across the state.

(Update 8/5/2013 5:10 p.m.) According to Fox spokesman John Barnes, the Attorney General’s Office sent the July 17 memo only to Associated Press reporters Matt Gouras and Matt Volz as well as to county attorneys and Montana sheriffs. Barnes said he doesn’t know how other media outlets found out about the memo but that there was no effort on the attorney general’s behalf to publicize the decision. Barnes said after the news got out other media outlets requested Gouras’ original request.

Fox called the AP’s request “pretty unprecedented,” a “bad idea” and said:

“Quite frankly I can’t think of a reason where it would be legitimate or reasonable to publish this amount of information or to release it to any individual.”

To the average person not regularly involved in news gathering and public information requests, Gouras’ request might seem intrusive. In actuality, the press requests this kind of information all the time. Good reporters regularly request all kinds of documents, information and data from Government agencies. We usually ask for as much detail as we can get and then work back from there. Sometimes privacy laws dictate what information we can and can’t have, in which case we work out those details with the agency. We make a habit of doing this on the public’s behalf. It’s how we find patterns in mounds of data. It’s how we hold government accountable.

The Associated Press has a long history of this kind of reporting. It was not too long ago Gouras uncovered the fact that hundreds of people barred from having guns because they are felons on parole or probation were still able to get hunting licenses in Montana with no questions asked.

Gouras didn’t publish the names of everyone who had a hunting license. He didn’t reveal a list of all the felons and parolees in the state. He cross referenced two sets of data and developed a good story from what he found.

The reaction from the pro-gun  world was swift and harsh as the headlines on conservative blogs and traditional media outlets alike questioned not Fox’s denial of a public records request, but the AP’s motivations in making it in the first place.

The message from the online pro-gun forums was clear: the public doesn’t have a right to know who holds a concealed carry permit. Some extremists made that point even sharper by warning other journalists that making such an request could be a mortal sin.

Such threats and intimidation tactics toward journalists should not be tolerated anywhere, particularly in a country whose founding document enshrined freedom of the press in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The biggest critique against the AP’s request for the information seems to be the fact that they wouldn’t comment on what they intended to do with it.

The beautiful thing about the public’s Right to Know is that it’s our Right to Know. We don’t have to tell the government why we want the information or what we plan to do with it. It’s the government’s job to turn it over and it’s the journalist’s job to deal with the data and information in a responsible manner.

People will point to the incident last December when a New York paper published the names and addresses of local gun owners.

You could argue that was a poor decision on their part. I think most journalists would argue right alongside you.

But one newspaper’s poor decision does not mean every journalist who requests information will disseminate it in such an irresponsible manner.

In Montana there is a history of great news reporting stemming from similar requests.

In 2008 then-Lee Newspapers state bureau reporter Jennifer McKee wrote a story on how nine sitting lawmakers had permits to carry concealed weapons.

In 2000 the Missoulian published a story on how the number of concealed weapons permits was climbing.

In 1994 Lee Newspapers capitol bureau reporter  David Fenner did a series of stories on concealed weapons in the state. The top story in the January 23, 1994 edition of the Billings Gazette featured a four-part report on gun-bearing Montanans, including an analysis of the concealed carry permit database.

One of Fenner’s stories explored the rise in permit holders.


Another featured interviews with concealed weapons permit holders, including Montana Supreme Court Justice James Nelson, former State Rep. Jody Bird, D-Superior and former Gov. Marc Racicot’s cousin. Presumably


A third story explored how a small community near the Hi-Line saw a spike in concealed weapons permit applications after a security manager at a local mine warned of the dangers of “environmental extremists.”


A fourth article debated the concealed weapons law’s effectiveness in deterring violent crime:


Update (8/5/2013 3:50 p.m.): Just last Thursday in the Outdoors section, the Tribune did a story on women carrying concealed weapons that would not have been possible without substantiating the information with the government. It gave insight into an important story in a responsible way.

So yes, there are “legitimate” and “reasonable” reasons for requesting this kind of information.

Associated Press Bureau Chief Jim Clarke gave me this statement about Gouras’ request and the AP’s intentions for the data Fox refused to turn over:

“After the Montana Legislature voted to remove from the public record information on whom the government had granted permits to carry concealed weapons, effective Oct. 1, The Associated Press requested a database of these files that had long been accessible to the public.

AP acted under freedom of information law, which we do routinely in seeking records at the federal, state and local level as part of our newsgathering process and our long-standing mission to assure transparency and accountability in government.  Montana’s Constitution contains such a Right to Know clause, which says: “No person shall be deprived of the right to examine documents.”

We have never had any interest in publishing the Montana database in its entirety.”

It is unclear at this point if the Associated Press or other news outlets plan to sue in court for access to the records.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Tribune editorial: Judiciary should release Cebull report

Republished editorial from the Aug. 1, 2013 Great Falls Tribune.

Richard Cebull of Billings has retired as a federal judge, not taking senior status as some judges do, but retiring outright.

So a 17-month-old flap over Cebull forwarding a crude email to acquaintances about President Barack Obama’s mother is all over with, right?

Not exactly.

Before Cebull hung up his judicial robe, the 9th Judicial District Court of Appeals, which oversees federal judges in the West, including Montana, launched a misconduct investigation into activities of the Montana judge through its arm called the Judicial Council.

What the investigation found is not clear because the 9th Circuit so far has declined to release the report or a summary of it.

At one point, the Judicial Council of the 9th Circuit declared the issue moot because Cebull retired, an approach that would have simply swept the matter under the proverbial rug.

Then the council composed a final order in the matter July 2, explaining the order would be released to the public and the media Sept. 4, if no petition for review is filed. If a petition for review is filed, the release could be delayed or not happen at all.

The Tribune, which is owned by the Gannett Co., sought release of more information about the Cebull probe.

“We believe the circumstances in this case weigh heavily in favor of public disclosure,” wrote Barbara Wall, Gannett’s vice president and senior associate general counsel, to Judge Alex Kozinski, chief judge of the 9th Circuit. “Judge Cebull waived his confidentiality when he publicly requested that the Judicial Council review his conduct, and public interest certainly is high in this controversial case. We therefore believe the public has a right to know the details and outcome of the investigation into Judge Cebull’s conduct, and I hope you will agree.”

The court’s response was the news that, barring a petition for review, the July 2 final order would be released Sept. 4.

Cebull’s original joke email he forwarded drew widespread condemnation and worldwide attention. Delays and confusion involving the council’s investigation indicate there may have been more to the flap than simply one email Cebull forwarded.

Initially, the judge told the Tribune he did not like Obama but conceded the email was offensive. He quickly sent a letter of apology to the president, and in May, he retired from the bench.

This country has an elaborate system of checks and balances involving the three main branches of government — Congress serves as the legislative branch, the president runs the executive branch and the third is the judicial branch.

Voters can cast votes against the president or members of Congress if they are unhappy with their performance while in office. Federal judges are appointed for life, so they are not required to face periodic votes to stay in office.

While we have no problem with insulating federal judges from periodic public approval, we do think there is a special obligation on the part of the judiciary both to act in an ethical manner and to police the judicial branch, making sure that misconduct is not tolerated.

We believe releasing the report on Cebull would provide a reassurance in the public mind that the federal judiciary is acting appropriately and providing some transparency in the self-policing of colleagues.

We encourage the 9th Circuit to release its report to the public as a matter of reassurance and transparency.

Judges do not have a easy job to perform, of course, but it’s important that the judiciary demonstrate some openness in such matters.

This is also a useful time to repeat advice we have given in the past and will continue to offer — don’t put anything in an email that you would not want to be splashed across the front page of a newspaper. Don’t expect an email to be secret and confidential.

Plenty of people would benefit by heeding this advice.

In the meantime, we believe the 9th Circuit can mend this bit of embarrassment in its ranks by showing openness about its investigation before finally putting this matter to rest.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Questions remain surrounding outcome of Judge Cebull misconduct investigation

Nearly 17 months after the  Great Falls Tribune first uncovered the racist email “joke” former chief Montana U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull sent from his courthouse chambers, many questions about Cebull’s conduct remain unanswered.

On Sept. 4, 2013 – after previously declaring the findings of the misconduct investigation and final order “moot” because Cebull retired – the Judicial Council of the 9th Circuit is set to release its July 2 final final order in the matter.

Will this final “final order” cover all of the complaints leveled against Judge Cebull? Will the Judicial Council reveal the findings of its nearly yearlong investigation into Cebull’s conduct? Will we ever find out what evidence the special investigative committee uncovered that was so damaging it forced a sitting Article III federal judge off the bench?

The circumstances surrounding the Judicial Council’s handling of this highly visible and controversial case thus far has left the Tribune, and even some legal scholars, scratching our heads. But one thing seems clear: the misconduct investigation must have turned up something more serious than a single offensive email or the 9th Circuit Judicial Council wouldn’t be going to such great lengths to conceal its findings from the public.

That is why the Tribune has continued to push for sunlight on this important matter. In our view, the public’s trust in the federal judiciary is best served by revealing the findings of the investigation.

Recently, at the Tribune’s request, attorneys from the Tribune’s parent corporation, Gannett, sent a letter to 9th Circuit Chief Judge Kozinski requesting that the March 15 order and memorandum be released to the public.

Barbara Wall, Gannett’s vice president and senior associate general counsel, wrote that the circumstances in this case weigh heavily in favor of public disclosure.

“We believe the circumstances in this case weigh heavily in favor of public disclosure. Judge Cebull waived his confidentiality when he publicly requested that the Judicial Council review his conduct, and public interest is certainly high in this controversial case. We therefore believe the public has a right to know the details and outcome of the investigation into Judge Cebull’s conduct, and I hope you will agree.”

This week the court responded, saying that if no petition for review is filed, then the July 2 order will be made public on Sept. 4.

Herein lies the rub: As far as anyone outside the Judicial Council  knows, the July 2 order covers Cebull’s self-filed complaint and one other complaint filed by as-yet-unknown person or persons. We know of at least two other complaints, one filed by the Montana Human Rights Network and one filed by Common Cause. However, we know that neither of those complaints are covered by the July 2 order.

The reason that is significant is because it appears the Judicial Council has segregated Cebull’s self-filed complaint – which we believe was assigned docket no. 12-90026 – and an unidentified complaint, docket no. 12-90032, from the other known complaints.

The Montana Human Rights Network’s complaint, Docket Nos. 12-90031, and Common Cause’s complaint, 12-90029, have not been resolved, and no order has been posted on the 9th Circuit’s website.

How can the other complainants in this matter have an opportunity to meaningfully participate in the resolution of the misconduct complaint if their complaint is segregated from the Judicial Council’s “final order” on the matter?

If only the complainant and the subject of the complaint have an opportunity to appeal the order – and in this case Cebull is both the complainant and the subject – then who has a right to review the order and possibly appeal other than Cebull himself?

Why has the 9th Circuit removed previous press releases and statements regarding the Cebull matter from its website?

Why did the Judicial Council apparently segregate Cebull’s self-filed complaint and another complaint and not address the complaint filed by others regarding the exact same set of facts?

Without answers to these questions, we’re left to speculate. At this point all signs seem to point to an attempt by the 9th Circuit to withhold the results of its investigation, order and memorandum in an effort to protect Cebull from embarrassment – or worse.

Recently the Montana Human Rights Network wrote to Kozinski requesting that Kozinski provide it with a copy of the special committee report and the orders and memoranda issued thus far.

Wrote MHRN co-director Rachel Carroll Rivas:

“If the decision to exclude us from the present adjudication of the matter was deliberate, we request an explanation as to why our complaint was not consolidated with the other two, and how we can achieve meaningful participation in the outcome.”

Rivas then posits five reasonable questions to the chief judge:

  • When will our complaint be investigated?
  • Why have docket numbers 12-90026 and 12-90032 been given priority over our complaint?
  • What purpose is served by allowing these complaints to be resolved before our complaint?
  • Will the present adjudication render our complaint moot, because Judge Cebull cannot be disciplined twice for the same conduct?
  • If so, how can we achieve any meaningful participation in this process?

We understand that certain special privacy considerations are appropriate when dealing with sensitive misconduct complaints that arise in the federal courts. But we believe this matter supersedes those considerations.

Judge Cebull’s actions and the subsequent fallout were of national interest. Individuals and organizations from across the country called for Cebull’s resignation, and the judge himself sent a personal letter of apology to the President of the United States. Cebull waived his right to privacy when he publicly disclosed his self-filed complaint. It’s time for the 9th Circuit to disclose its findings to the public so the public’s trust in the federal judiciary can be restored.

Below is a timeline of events in the Cebull case up to now:

· Feb. 10, 2012: Judge Richard F. Cebull receives an email titled "A Mom's Memory" on his courthouse email account.

· Feb. 20, 2012: Judge Cebull forwards that email  to six friends and his personal email address.

· Feb. 29, 2012: As a reporter for the Great Falls Tribune, I receive a copy of the email sent from Cebull's email account and call him to ask him about it. He admits to sending the email and says he did so because he does not like President Obama.

· March 1, 2012: Judge Cebull writes an apology to President Barack Obama.

· March 1, 2012: Judge Cebull writes to 9th Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski requesting an inquiry into his actions to determine whether his actions constitute "misconduct." Cebull waives his confidentiality as to making the request and the existence of any proceedings that ensue.

· March 1, 2012: Cathy A. Catterson, executive of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals issues a statement in which she proclaims the Judicial Council of the 9th Circuit  "is expected to act expeditiously in investigating and resolving this matter."

· March 1, 2012: Groups begin circulating petitions calling for Cebull's resignation.

· March 5, 2012: The Montana Human Rights Network files an official judicial misconduct complaint with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and calls on Cebull to resign.

· March 6, 2012: The ranking Democrat on the House judiciary, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. calls for the House Judiciary Committee to hold hearings on Cebull's conduct.

· March 12, 2012: The Montana Human Rights Network sends a letter to Cebull along with a petition signed by more than 2,800 people calling on Cebull to Resign.

· March 23, 2012:  9th Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Alex Kozinski appoints a five-judge judicial committee to investigate Cebull's actions. Judge M. Margaret McKeown assigned to preside over the case.

· October, 2012: Cebull announces he'll take senior status effective March, 15, 2013

· December, 2012: The Special Committee submits its report to the Judicial Council in December 2012.

· March 15, 2013: The Judicial Council issues an order and memorandum. Order not to be released until after the 63-day appeal period

· April 2, 2013: The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals in a statement on its website makes the preceding two facts known to the public and announces Cebull submitted a retirement letter stating his last day would be May 3, 2013. The council states it will have no further comment until the conclusion of the appeal period.

· May 3, 2013: Cebull retires. According to federal law, as an Article III federal district judge he is entitled to continue to collect his $174,000 annual salary until his death.

· May 13, 2013: Four days before the order and memorandum are to become public, Kozinksi issues a statement saying the order stemming from the investigation is "moot" because Cebull retired from active duty. Kozinski says the Judicial Council “now finds it necessary to review the procedural status and will consider the matter” at its June 28 meeting.

· June 28, 2013: The Judicial Council meets to consider the Cebull misconduct complaint.

· July 2, 2013: Kozinski releases another statement indicating that the Judicial Council reviewed misconduct complaints 12-90026 and 12-90032 against Cebull. Judicial Council issues a  “final order,” which is to be made public on Sept. 4 “if no petition for review is filed before that date.” Only Cebull and the complainant associated with docket No. 12-90032 have the right to view the final order and consider it for appeal.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Rep. Knudsen loses his job over bills that irked the oil and gas industry

Culbertson Republican Rep. Austin Knudsen lost his job at the O’Toole Law Firm in Plentywood last session in part because he sponsored two pieces of legislation that were opposed by the oil and gas industry.

Emails between Board of Oil and Gas Conservation administrator Tom Richmond and Dave Galt, executive director of the Montana Petroleum Association, indicate that Larry O’Toole, Knudsen’s boss, planned to fire the junior law partner due to Knudsen’s support of a pair of measures aimed at giving landowners and mineral rights owners greater protections.

The emails, which were obtained by the Montana Environmental Information Center, stated that Larry O’Toole was watching a House committee hearing on House Bill 406 and and House Bill 431 at the Board of Oil and Gas Conservation offices in Billings when he told board geologist Jim Halvorson that Knudsen, an attorney, may be looking for a new job.

In a Feb. 19 email Richmond wrote to Galt:

“Larry O’Toole sat with Jim (Halvorson) Friday and watched the law partner’s (Knudsen) performance during these two hearings on the Internet in Jim’s office….said law partner maybe hanging out his own shingle pretty soon!....Larry said almost all of the people testifying in favor were relatives of the Representative….O’Toole Law Firm not pleased.”

Richmond followed up later saying that Loren O’Toole, Larry’s father, called Larry during the hearing to tell him:

“he needs to fire Austin.”

O’Toole did not return phone calls seeking comment on the email exchange.

The O’Toole Law Firm is one of only a handful of law firms in the state that handles complex oil and gas cases before the Board of Oil and Gas Conservation. Knudsen said Larry O’Toole represents many clients in the oil and gas industry.

Knudsen confirmed that O’Toole asked him for his resignation shortly after the committee hearing on the two bills.

“The fact is I ran a couple of bills that were perceived as anti-oil industry and it upset some people,” Knudsen said.

Knudsen, seen by many political watchers as a rising star in the Republican Party, was elected to the leadership by his caucus and in January GOP leaders tapped him for the high-profile job of responding to Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock’s state of the state speech.

Unconfirmed rumors of Knudsen’s firing reverberated throughout the Capitol during the Legislative session, but the incident never made headlines.

Knudsen said he previously thought O’Toole asked him for his resignation because of the burden his legislative service put on the firm. Knudsen said he heard the rumors, but he said he didn’t know they were true until he learned last week of the email exchange uncovered by MEIC.

“Me serving in the Legislature for two sessions was very tough on the firm,” Knudsen said. “It was just Larry and I and when you’ve got me spending four or five months out of the year in Helena not doing work and doing legislative stuff, it’s tough on business,” Knudsen said. “As far as I knew that was the reason because that was the conversation Larry and I had.”

The two bills Knudsen sponsored had to do with oil and gas development impacts on surface rights owners and “forced pooling” of mineral rights holders.

HB431 would have required any damages from oil and gas development on surface owner’s land be calculated based on the “best reasonably available use” of the land. Previously most damage calculations were primarily based on agricultural uses.

The second bill, HB406, would have reduced the penalties and increased the royalty payments for mineral rights owners who are “force pooled.” Under Montana law mineral rights owners who are unwilling to lease their mineral rights are barred from preventing other mineral rights owners in the same tract from developing their mineral rights. Those who refuse to sign leases are “force pooled” meaning they are given an average mineral lease, and an eighth of the share of the working oil drilling operation’s royalties. They are forced to pay out of those royalties a penalty that helps cover part of the costs of the working interest.

HB406 would have reduced those penalties and increased the royalties for mineral rights owners who were forced into a pool. The measure would have made Montana law similar to current laws in neighboring North Dakota.

“There a lot of oil and gas exploration going on in my district. My family has had to deal with these issues. I’ve got neighbors and constituents who have had to deal with these issues. There gets to be a lot of tension and a lot of landowner problems,” Knudsen said. “Right now we’ve got statutes in place that protect those landowners and requires them to be compensated for damages, but the statute is very week and sometimes they are completely ignored by the companies.”

Both measures were opposed by the Montana Petroleum Association. HB431 was amended and eventually passed both houses and a conference committee before Gov. Steve Bullock signed it into law. HB406, which faced more vehement opposition by the industry, died in committee.

Galt said he worked with Knudsen to amend HB431, but he said the industry feared that HB406 would become an incentive for mineral rights owners to not sign reasonable lease offers from developers.

“It changes the whole economic well,” Galt said. “It was a big deal to us. These bills were huge deals and they were of great concern.”

Galt said he had nothing to do with Knudsen’s firing and he said he didn’t know anything about it until he received that email from Richmond.

“I did not have any conversation with the O’Tooles, Larry or Loren, and I do not know of anybody in the industry who did,” Galt said. “When I heard this happened I went and talked to Austin and I told him that. I thought it was an unfortunate situation. I don’t operate like that and I don’t believe that’s the right way to operate. I told him that.”

For his party Richmond said he regretted passing along the information to Galt via email. Richmond said the board did not take a position on either bill, but rather kept track of where various interests lined up in support or opposition. Richmond said he sent the email to Galt because it illustrated the heated passions on both sides of the issue.

“I think at the time we were just kind of concerned about where the bill was going, and who was supporting it and who was opposing it,” Richmond said. “I think it was a matter of passing the knowledge along so people would know where people stood.”

Richmond said it was “unfortunate” that O’Toole made the comments about firing Knudsen while in the board’s Billings office.

“It’s an unfortunate thing that that happened in our office, and I shouldn’t have spread the rumor any further than that,” Richmond said. “We were just trying to keep track back and forth who had a position and what their position was.”

Derf Johnson, MEIC’s assistant program director and the man who uncovered the emails through a freedom of information request, said he was deeply troubled to learn that a sitting legislator had lost his job because of his position on legislation.

Though MEIC supported HB431 and HB406, Johnson said the environmental group was not happy with Knudsen’s overall record on the environment. However, Johnson said Knudsen got a “raw deal.”

“It was incredibly alarming that the sponsor of a bill that would have impacted the oil and gas industry lost his job. That would be my most immediate concern with the emails,” Johnson said. “To me it suggests that there was some political retribution for stance he took at the Legislature and for supporting bills important to his constituents.”

Johnson said he requested the emails because he wanted to better understand the relationship between the Board of Oil and Gas Conservation and the industry it regulates during the legislative process. He said the 63 pages of emails demonstrates a maybe too-friendly relationship between the industry and its primary regulating entity.

“We certainly don’t have the kind of access to the Board of Oil and Gas that the industry does. I think these emails show that,” Johnson said.

Knudsen, who is working on his own and helping out with his family’s farm, said he is not surprised to learn that his dismissal from the O’Toole Law Firm was related to his support of those two measures.

“I knew there was going to be resistance to these bills, especially from the industry,” Knudsen said. “I’m not out to stick it to the industry, but these are issues I’m passionate about. I dealt with them it personally in my family and I’ve dealt with it with my neighbors and my clients. When you’ve got a section of code that’s meant to protect the surface owners and there’s no teeth tho it, well then I think we’ve got a problem. That’s why I brought the bill.”

Read the full email exchange in DocumentCloud online at

Friday, July 19, 2013

Tester, Baucus dismiss claims they sunk Schweitzer’s Senate bid

Tester at Blackstone

U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus denied accusations levied by sources close to former Gov. Brian Schweitzer that Montana’s two Democratic senators were responsible for Schweitzer’s surprise decision to not seek a U.S. Senate seat in 2014.

Speaking to reporters Friday at the state Capitol following the announcement of a $2 million Blackstone LaunchPad grant for the University of Montana and Montana State University, Tester said the anonymous claims he or his political team “stuck knives” in the former governor’s U.S. Senate bid are “baloney.”

“We did nothing to inhibit him from running,” Tester said.

Schweitzer was considered by many political observers to be the Democrats’ best chance of retaining Baucus’ seat in 2014. Democrats have controlled that seat for a century, and polls showed the popular Schweitzer was the most competitive contender in a field that has not yet come into focus. Despite his oft-repeated rhetoric about the ills and aromas emanating from Washington, D.C. and Capitol Hill, most political insiders believed Schweitzer was in fact preparing to run for the Senate.

A recent article in the Australian online publication Business Insider cited several anonymous sources involved with Schweitzer’s supposed planned bid to replace the retiring Baucus. The article made waves on social media Thursday on anonymous claims that Schweitzer was going to announce his campaign on July 15, but that “bad blood” between he and Montana’s two sitting senators led him to bow out of the race.

Tester said he has “no idea” why anonymous sources close to Schweitzer would accuse the junior senator of “torpedoing” his campaign.

“I don’t have time for this stuff, even if I wanted to, which I don’t,” Tester said. “Brian Schweitzer was our best chance of winning this race. He could have probably done everything without me. He didn’t need me. The truth of the matter is that’s a fact. It’s going to be a lot more work for me now.”

Tester may have taken a slight jab at Schweitzer on the podium earlier in the day when he introduced current Gov. Steve Bullock, calling him a “breath of fresh air.” But Tester insisted reports that he had any animosity toward Schweitzer or did anything to upend his possible Senate bid are false.

“You know Brian Schweitzer. You know me. Does that shoe fit?” Tester said. “That I would actually try to go after him just doesn’t fit. I mean it’s not who I am. I’m not that kind of a person.”

Baucus, who was also present for the launch of the Blackstone grant, said he “wasn’t terribly surprised”  Schweitzer chose not to run for the Senate.


“I’ve never met anybody...who wants to decide for himself more than Brian Schweitzer,” Baucus said. “Brian is a very smart guy and a very good governor. I have not talked to Brian since that decision, but he obviously has his own reasons. But it was up to Brian, whatever those reasons are.”

Schweitzer, who recently took over as chairman of Stillwater Mining Co. board of directors, told reporters that he doesn’t want to leave Montana for Washington, D.C. Schweitzer hasn’t personally commented on the rumors that Tester or Baucus had anything to do with his decision to not enter the Senate race, but multiple stories quoting anonymous sources from all three camps have painted a picture of “bad blood” between the former Democratic governor and the state’s two Democratic senators.

Baucus waved off any implication that he or his staff were not supportive of Schweitzer’s bid to replace him.

“I think Brian was kind of conflicted whether he wanted this job in the first place,” Baucus said.

Schweitzer did not answer a call seeking comment.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Schweitzer aide’s PO Box ‘only connection’ to dark money PAC

A former top aide to Brian Schweitzer said his personal post office box is the only connection between the former governor and a pair of dark money political groups in the news this week.

On Monday, FOX Business News reported that Schweitzer, a potential 2014 Democratic front-runner for Montana’s open U.S. Senate seat, in 2009 formed a 527 political action committee that later gave more than $300,000 to a Washington, D.C.-based political nonprofit.

FOX’s David Asman alleged the Helena and Washington-based nonprofit groups appeared to have been formed for the sole purpose of doing political work for Schweitzer, a violation of IRS rules.

Asman connected the Helena-based PAC Council for Sustainable America to Schweitzer because on the group’s 2010 990 report to the IRS it listed the same Helena post office box address as Schweitzer’s 2008 gubernatorial campaign.

imageFranklin Hall, a former senior adviser to Schweitzer, called FOX News’ charge bogus and said Schweitzer never had any involvement in either group.

“The only connection whatsoever between the governor’s campaign and the entity that was shut down three years ago (Council for Sustainable America) is my personal P.O. Box,” Hall said.

Hall said he has been a political consultant since 2004. Prior to moving to Montana, Hall did consulting work for the Democratic Governor’s Association, which Schweitzer chaired in 2009. Hall later moved to Helena, where he did private consulting work until Schweitzer hired him in November 2010 as senior adviser.

Hall said the Council for Sustainable America was one of his clients from before the time he worked for Schweitzer in the governor’s office. Hall said after Schweitzer won re-election in 2008 the governor shut down his political campaign, but since the campaign still had some money left over it was required by law to file campaign reports.

“The entity still existed because there was leftover money,” Hall explained. “That entity was required to do regular reports with the commissioner of political practices, and when you fill out those forms, you are required to have a mailing address.”

Hall said the campaign did not have any employees or an office, so he volunteered his personal post office box address to be used on the defunct campaign’s filings. Hall said he used that same address on IRS reports filed for the Council for Sustainable America.

Hall said the Council for Sustainable America shut down in the first quarter of 2010.

In March 2009, the Council for Sustainable America received a $335,000 contribution from the Democratic Governor’s Association, three months after Schweitzer was elected chair of that organization.

During the first quarter of 2010, the group liquidated its remaining funds, totaling $306,779, to the American Sustainability Project, a 501(c)(4) political nonprofit with a registered address in Washington, D.C.

The Helena-based group’s 2010 IRS 990 form was prepared by a law firm at the same address the America Sustainability Project lists on its 990: 1666 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 500, Washington, D.C.



Former Rep. Dave Gallik, D-Helena, the man Schweitzer appointed in 2011 as Commissioner of Political Practices, was treasurer of the Helena-based group until it dissolved in 2010. Gallik’s signature appeared on the group’s 2010 990 form in August 2011, but Hall said the group had not been active for more than a year at that point and the 990 filing was a required formality.

The Council for Sustainable America lists its “primary exempt purpose” as “educating voters about elected officials and candidates.”

According to its 2010 IRS form 990, the group spent $57,972 conducting opinion polls “to determine voter opinion on sustainable energy, the environment and agriculture policies.”

The group also gave $2,500 to Maryland Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley’s 2010 re-election campaign.

Hall said the purpose of the organization was to educate voters about sustainability issues.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

FOX outlines Brian Schweitzer’s dark money ties


According to FOX Business News former Montana governor and potential U.S. Senate candidate Brian Schweitzer in 2010 (2009?)set up a 501(c)(4) 527 political non-profit that gave $306,799 to a Washington, D.C.-based political non-profit called the American Sustainability Project.

What the money was used for remains a mystery, but FOX argues that these two groups exist for the sole purpose of politicking on behalf of Schweitzer in violation of IRS rules.

According to FOX’s David Asman, Schweitzer in 2010 set up a 501(c)(4) nonprofit called the Council for Sustainable America. Asman says he knows the Council for Sustainable America is tied to Schweitzer because CSA has the same PO Box mailing address as Schweitzer.

So as the political world waits on bated breath to see what Schweitzer’s next move will be, it appears Schweitzer may have been quietly amassing his war chest since as far back as 2010 through these two organizations.

One point FOX didn’t pick up on was the fact that the treasurer of the Council for Sustainable America is, or was, Dave Gallik. Gallik is the man Schweitzer appointed in 2011 to be the commissioner of political practices, Montana’s top political campaign and ethics enforcer.


Gallik resigned from that post in January 2012 amid accusations that he was using his state office to conduct non-state work for his private law firm.

Gallik claimed he did nothing wrong and that he told Schweitzer at the outset that he would not give up his private law practice to serve as commissioner.

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox’s office is in the process of suing Gallik under the state’s False Claims Act, a law Gallik helped create when he was in the Legislature.  The False Claims Act law authorizes a private person to prosecute a recovery and civil sanction action on behalf of the state government against any person who obtains payment from a government entity by means of a knowingly false or fraudulent representation or claim.

Media Trackers Montana in April reported that Gallik was Schweitzer’s former attorney and served as treasurer for Council for Sustainable America, which received a $335,000 contribution from the Democratic Governors Association four months after Schweitzer became chair of the committee.

There are more questions than answers stemming from the FOX News report.  What is Schweitzer’s tie to these political organizations and what is their true purpose? Who’s funding them? Why was Dave Gallik acting as treasurer of a 501(c)(4) political group while at the same serving as commissioner of political practices in apparent violation of state ethics laws? The law says the commissioner of political practices “may not knowingly…participate in any political activity or in a political campaign.” Was Gallik, while acting as the commissioner of political practices, doing campaign work on behalf of Schweitzer?

Schweitzer did not answer calls made to his cell phone, and there was no voicemail service on which to leave a message. A call to Gallik’s law firm had not been returned as of the time of this posting.

In a nutshell, it appears Schweitzer, who purported to be the most transparent governor in Montana history, in 2010 set up a dark money group run by the man he appointed to be the top political campaign watchdog for what appears to be the sole purpose of holding money for a future political campaign.

Here’s a link to the FOX Business News report.

Here’s a link to the Council for Sustainable America’s 2010 IRS form 990.

Here’s a link to the American Sustainability Project’s 2010 IRS form 990.