A political organization with close ties to former Gov. Brian Schweitzer funneled over $300,000 to a Washington, D.C.-based dark money group in 2010. The organization that gave the money away, a so-called 527 group named Council for Sustainable America (CSA), appears to be run by Franklin Hall, a former senior aide to Schweitzer. The money from CSA was sent to the American Sustainability Project (ASP), a 501(c)(4) group that claims an address in downtown Washington, D.C.
The 2010 donations — totaling $306,779 — raise questions about whether ASP is a shell group created to hold money on Schweitzer’s behalf.
The story was broken last Tuesday by David Asman of the Fox Business Network. Asman reported that the donation was made on March 31, 2010, and that CSA was listed at the same P.O. Box as the one listed for BrianSchweitzer.com.
Asman also reported that ASP does not have a physical office at its stated D.C. address, and that no one at the address had ever heard of ASP. ASP does not appear to have a website or any other official online presence. CSA, the group that sent the money to ASP, ceased to exist in 2010 after its donation to ASP. Neither CSA or ASP has ever been registered with either the Montana Office of Political Practices (OPP) or the Federal Election Commission.
Last Wednesday, following Asman’s initial report, Great Falls Tribune reporter John Adams contacted Hall, who served as a senior aide in Schweitzer’s office starting in November of 2010. Hall claims that Schweitzer had nothing to do with either group and that Hall simply offered his personal P.O. box to Schweitzer, whose 2008 gubernatorial campaign needed an address to put on post-election filings to OPP .
“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 told Adams.
Claims about Schweitzer using ASP as a corporate shell to hold money are bolstered, however, by the financial history of CSA. In April, Media Trackers Montana reported that CSA received a $335,000 donation from the Democratic Governor’s Association (DGA) — for which Hall did consulting work — four months after Schweitzer became chair of the DGA in 2009. CSA’s IRS 990 form for 2010 shows that the $306,779 donation to ASP amounted to 83 percent of CSA’s assets and that CSA was left with zero assets when it ceased operations in 2010.
CSA’s 990 form also lists former Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Dave Gallik as treasurer of the group. During that time Gallik was also Schweitzer’s personal attorney.
According to ASP’s IRS 990 form, which was obtained by Media Trackers Montana, ASP received $331,779 in 2010, of which $306,779 came from CSA, and reported $94,589 in expenses for travel, polling and research, legal fees, and management. $65,000 was paid out under the “other” category. The group does not disclose its donors.
The form states that ASP’s mission is “to promote sustainable energy policies with the goal of creating jobs, achieving U.S. energy independence and protecting the environment.”
Asman also claimed in his report that ASP’s activities and spending — or lack thereof — constitute a possible violation of an IRS rule that allows 501(c)4 groups to spend no more than 40 percent of their time and resources on politics.
“It is a 501(c)4 organization. They’re supposed to spend no more than 40 percent of their time on politics,” Asman reported. “It seems clear that this is just a political vehicle for Brian Schweitzer, who wants to run for Senate.”
The 990 form is stamped with a date that says it was received by the IRS on August 17, 2011 — a full year after CSA made the donation.
The president of ASP is listed as Constance Milstein, a New York-based real estate developer and Obama bundler who has donated over $2 million to Democratic candidates and liberal political committees, including $75,800 to the Obama Victory Fund in 2012 and $50,000 to Obama’s inauguration according to Federal Election Commission records.
Schweitzer continues to be the presumed front runner in the 2014 race for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Democrat Max Baucus. Schweitzer has yet to officially enter the race.
Schweitzer has been a consistent critic of third-party spending by so-called “dark money” groups in Montana. In October of 2012, Schweitzer slammed American Tradition Partnership, a Republican dark money group, for being “secretive” and “living in a post office box.”