HELENA — A conservative political group is publishing and mailing a version of its newsletter to 120,000 Montanans. Resembling a newspaper, it contains articles attacking gubernatorial candidate Steve Bullock and other Montana Democrats.
Titled the “Montana Statesman” and billing itself as “Montana’s most trusted news source,” the flier is being distributed by American Tradition Partnership (ATP), a pro-development, anti-environmental group.
The first issue was mailed last week to 120,000 Montana households, said ATP Executive Director Donald Ferguson.
Ferguson said a second and third issue will go out in the mail this week. The flier is a special edition of the group’s quarterly newsletter usually sent to its supporters, he said.
The edition sent last week leads with a headline that says “Bullock admits failure; 1 in 4 sex offenders go unregistered,” and contains five articles without bylines and a full-page advertisement criticizing Bullock for various offenses.
A second issue, available online, has articles attacking Bullock and other Democratic candidates.
Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Jim Murry said the “newspaper” looks like campaign material, which would require whoever sends it to report its expenses and financial backers.
“I suspect they are skirting the law because they understand that they can do this kind of thing, and not be in an advocacy kind of position,” he said.
If a group doesn’t directly advocate for or against a candidate, it can call itself an educational group and isn’t required to report its donors or expenditures.
Ferguson said ATP is not an advocacy group.
“We don’t tell people who to vote for; we never do,” he said Monday. “We just want candidates to change their positions.”
Bullock campaign spokeswoman Kate Downen said allegations leveled against Bullock in the ATP newspaper “are 100 percent incorrect and fabricated by outside parties who are trying to influence the election.”