Norm Asbjornson, the guy who just gave $50 Million to MSU, was also the largest donor to Western Tradition Partnership

Yesterday, a man named Norm Asbjornson gave $50 million to Montana State University to build a new engineering and innovation center. That was a very generous contribution. However, I feel the need to point out that Mr. Asbjornson was also the largest contributor to Western Tradition Partnership (WTP) aka American Tradition Partnership (ATP), the organization that successfully overturned Montana's century old ban on corporate spending in elections. A ban that Montanan's overwhelmingly support.  Asbjornson gave $50,000 to WTP in August 2008. His heating and cooling company in Tulsa, Okla., gave $20,000 to them in October 2010. Asbjornson said he gave money to WTP in part because the group was working to elect state representatives who embodied Montanan values. I'm not sure how a organization like WTP, which was run by a D.C. insider out of his office in Virginia, reflects Montana values. I also don't understand how Mr. Asbjornson could plead ignorance on WTP's tactics or methods considering one of WTP's main selling points was that you could influence elections and remain completely anonymous. I also think you'd want to know that the organization you were contributing to, especially to the tune of $70,000, was a legitimate, law abiding organization. Here's just a smattering of some of the illegal and unscrupulous activities of WTP in Montana during the last couple election cycles.
  • WTP collected almost $1.1 million between March 2008 and December 2010 to influence state and local elections through nasty personal attacks on moderate Republican candidates and statewide Democratic candidates.
  • WTP illegally coordinated with right wing extremist candidates through the business Direct Mail and Communications, run by Christian LeFer.
  • WTP funded attacks on Democrat Steve Bullock sending out two fake newspapers to Montana residents in the final weeks of the race portraying him as soft on child predators.
  • WTP exploited gaps in regulation between election authorities and the Internal Revenue Service to pour tens of millions of dollars from secret donors into political campaigns
  • WTP misled the IRS about their political activities.
  • WTP sued the state of Montana and successfully overturned Montana's century old ban on corporate spending in elections.
Those are just some of the highlights. For the record, WTP also went after my mother, Debra Bonogofsky, in her primary race with Dan Kennedy in 2010 for Montana House District 57. She filed numerous complaints against Kennedy and WTP with the Montana Commissioner for Political Practices and she won them all. But that all brings me back to the subject of Mr. Asbjornson and his donation to MSU. Governor Bullock, who was the biggest target of WTP as he ran for Governor and who fought WTP as Montana' s Attorney General,  said yesterday,
"The donor, Norm Asbjornson, represents the spirit of generosity that makes Montana great."
Maybe he didn't know that Mr. Asbjornson was the largest donor to WTP or most likely, it's just politics. No permanent friends, no permanent enemies. I'm not naive. I'm not saying that MSU shouldn't have accepted the money or that it shouldn't be celebrated. But what I am saying is that the media should have pointed out Mr. Asbjornson's connection to WTP. The money Asbjornson gave to MSU was generous and important and will impact Montanan's for generations. But he also actively supported an organization that badly damaged Montana's democratic processes and institutions.  Those actions will have negative repercussions on Montanans, and arguably will have more impact than his donation to MSU,  for generations to come. Just thought someone should point that out. (For more information about WTP and their illegal activities, just go to Frontline and read their great coverage of the group and dark money in politics.)    

4 Comments on “Norm Asbjornson, the guy who just gave $50 Million to MSU, was also the largest donor to Western Tradition Partnership

  1. I think you did a fine job of pointing that out. Good for you Alexis.

  2. “But what I am saying is that the media should have pointed out Mr. Asbjornson’s connection to WTP.” I disagree. It should be noted in an article about WTP or campaign finance or a biographical sketch of the man, absolutely — but is completely irrelevant in the context of his donation to MSU. Maybe if he had made the donation to the school’s Poli Sci department, or even Humanities — but not in this case.

  3. Pingback: Montana in Review – March 3-9, 2014 | Mountains, Plains & People

  4. Alexis, you did well discussing the donation here. I think this Gentleman also has helped to keep a town in Montana on the map. If it is the same guy, he is worth talking with. He might have something to say about what you are doing that is positive….I don’t know, maybe he is just a guy that has been really successful and likes helping folks. as for the WTP thing…well maybe he trusted someone to do what they said they would do and then they didn’t and kept it from him. I don’t know. I wonder if you and him could talk, if he might not get it? I think about my own recent experience and I wonder if there isn’t a chance to go forward with all this and somehow chart a future for Montana that doesn’t force things like the land board deciding about potentially millions of dollars vs a couple of century old ranches like they did recently.
    Quite the state we are in literally and figuratively.