A check shows a donor's support for the campaign of Mike Miller, who defeated John Ward, that was released when the Montana district court judge unsealed the bank records of Western Tradition Partnership at the request of Frontline and ProPublica. (Photo credit: text to link herePBS Frontline )
By Kim Barker,ProPublica, and Rick Young and Emma Schwartz, Frontline, Nov. 5, 2012, 10:19 a.m.
Nov. 5: This post has been updated.
This story was co-published with PBS Frontline.
The donors wrote notes on their checks like "Go get 'em!" or "Stop Obama." They scrawled in names of candidates for office in Montana and Colorado, or simply "oil & gas."
But unlike donors to political committees, the names of those who gave to Western Tradition Partnership, or WTP, were never supposed to be made public.
That changed Friday after a Montana district court judge released the social welfare nonprofit's bank records at the request of Frontline and ProPublica, saying citizens had a right to know.
It was the first time that a court has ordered a modern dark money group's donors to be made public, firing a warning shot to similar organizations engaged in politics.
The WTP bank records, which cover a period from March 2008 to December 2010, show that the group raised almost $1.1 million from other social welfare nonprofits, corporations, a political committee and individuals. It received $650,000 from the nonprofits, $70,000 from an Oklahoma businessman and his company and $50,000 from a Colorado homebuilder. Most WTP contributors, however, gave on a smaller scale: 495 of the group's 607 donations were for $100 or less.
The total amount raised by WTP, now known as American Tradition Partnership, was not large, compared to the tens of millions of dollars dark money groups like Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity have collected in the 2012 election cycle.
But 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.
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