by Bill Forman
When we ran our cover story on the Colorado-based Western Tradition Partnership back in January (see "Money Talks" and "WTF is WTP"), the secretive advocacy group was still flying well under the radar. In fact, that’s the big selling-point for WTP, and similar 501(c)4 organizations that promise their corporate and private donors the ability to influence elections with total anonymity.
But this week, the chameleonic conservative action group — which is now calling itself American Tradition Partnership — is falling under a lot more scrutiny. And what’s coming to light isn’t exactly flattering:
• Public Broadcasting Service’s Frontline — which aired a documentary last month on how WTP helped shape the campaigns of candidates in Montana state races — followed up with an article last week entitled “Mysterious Docs Found in Meth House Reveal Inner Workings of Dark Money Group”: “The boxes were examined by Frontline and ProPublica as part of an investigation into the growing influence on elections of dark money groups, tax-exempt organizations that can accept unlimited contributions and do not have to identify their donors. The documents offer a rare glimpse into the world of dark money, showing how Western Tradition Partnership appealed to donors, interacted with candidates and helped shape their election efforts.” (Read the full article here.)
• Yesterday, the PBS public affairs show posted another WTP follow-up report titled “Dark Money Group’s Donors Revealed.” As the article notes: “The details available on WTP, which has worked to elect conservatives in Montana and Colorado and has won national attention for a lawsuit that led the Supreme Court to apply its Citizens United ruling to states, are striking. The bank records highlight WTP’s ties to groups backing libertarian Ron Paul. The Conservative Action League, a Virginia social welfare nonprofit run at the time in part by John Tate, most recently Paul’s campaign manager, transferred $40,000 to WTP in August 2008, bank records show. Tate was also a consultant for WTP. In addition, WTP gave $5,000 to a group called the SD Campaign for Liberty, affiliated with Paul and the national Campaign for Liberty."
• And, to add insult to injury, Denver’s district attorney confirmed yesterday that his office is conducting a criminal probe into Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler's alleged use of state funds for partisan purposes. As noted in our aforementioned cover story, Gessler had previously served as lead attorney for Western Tradition Partnership’s lawsuit against Longmont's Fair Campaign Practices Act, and there’s already speculation that the investigation could further tarnish WTP’s reputation.