A former top aide to Brian Schweitzer said his personal post office box is the only connection between the former governor and a pair of dark money political groups in the news this week.
On Monday, FOX Business News reported that Schweitzer, a potential 2014 Democratic front-runner for Montana’s open U.S. Senate seat, in 2009 formed a 527 political action committee that later gave more than $300,000 to a Washington, D.C.-based political nonprofit.
FOX’s David Asman alleged the Helena and Washington-based nonprofit groups appeared to have been formed for the sole purpose of doing political work for Schweitzer, a violation of IRS rules.
Asman connected the Helena-based PAC Council for Sustainable America to Schweitzer because on the group’s 2010 990 report to the IRS it listed the same Helena post office box address as Schweitzer’s 2008 gubernatorial campaign.
Franklin Hall, a former senior adviser to Schweitzer, called FOX News’ charge bogus and said Schweitzer never had any involvement in either group.
“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 said.
Hall said he has been a political consultant since 2004. Prior to moving to Montana, Hall did consulting work for the Democratic Governor’s Association, which Schweitzer chaired in 2009. Hall later moved to Helena, where he did private consulting work until Schweitzer hired him in November 2010 as senior adviser.
Hall said the Council for Sustainable America was one of his clients from before the time he worked for Schweitzer in the governor’s office. Hall said after Schweitzer won re-election in 2008 the governor shut down his political campaign, but since the campaign still had some money left over it was required by law to file campaign reports.
“The entity still existed because there was leftover money,” Hall explained. “That entity was required to do regular reports with the commissioner of political practices, and when you fill out those forms, you are required to have a mailing address.”
Hall said the campaign did not have any employees or an office, so he volunteered his personal post office box address to be used on the defunct campaign’s filings. Hall said he used that same address on IRS reports filed for the Council for Sustainable America.
Hall said the Council for Sustainable America shut down in the first quarter of 2010.
In March 2009, the Council for Sustainable America received a $335,000 contribution from the Democratic Governor’s Association, three months after Schweitzer was elected chair of that organization.
During the first quarter of 2010, the group liquidated its remaining funds, totaling $306,779, to the American Sustainability Project, a 501(c)(4) political nonprofit with a registered address in Washington, D.C.
The Helena-based group’s 2010 IRS 990 form was prepared by a law firm at the same address the America Sustainability Project lists on its 990: 1666 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 500, Washington, D.C.
Former Rep. Dave Gallik, D-Helena, the man Schweitzer appointed in 2011 as Commissioner of Political Practices, was treasurer of the Helena-based group until it dissolved in 2010. Gallik’s signature appeared on the group’s 2010 990 form in August 2011, but Hall said the group had not been active for more than a year at that point and the 990 filing was a required formality.
The Council for Sustainable America lists its “primary exempt purpose” as “educating voters about elected officials and candidates.”
According to its 2010 IRS form 990, the group spent $57,972 conducting opinion polls “to determine voter opinion on sustainable energy, the environment and agriculture policies.”
The group also gave $2,500 to Maryland Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley’s 2010 re-election campaign.
Hall said the purpose of the organization was to educate voters about sustainability issues.