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Can I Pay for that Whiskey with Dark Money?

Fly rod and whiskey flask — the perfect Montana combination. Photo courtesy Bozeman Spirits Distillery

Fly rod and whiskey flask — the perfect Montana combination. Photo courtesy Bozeman Spirits Distillery

By Brent Zundel
For the Bozeman Magpie
August 25, 2013

Author’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Bozeman Magpie. Mr. Art Wittich did not respond to multiple requests for comment until after this piece was published. The piece below has been updated to reflect his statements.

A lawsuit that was filed against the City of Bozeman in June could have wide-ranging impacts on Montana’s burgeoning distillery industry. The law firm of Montana Senate Majority Leader Art Wittich, R-Bozeman, is leading a suit against the City of Bozeman for allowing a new microdistillery to open its doors in Bozeman’s historic downtown.

In May, the Bozeman City Commission approved a conditional use permit that would allow Bozeman Spirits Distillery and Tasting Room to open at 121 West Main Street, the property previously occupied by Schnee’s, a footwear and outdoor clothing retailer. That would put the new distillery within Bozeman’s historic downtown, right next door to the landmark Baxter Hotel. Jim R. Harris, III, is the would-be proprietor of Bozeman Spirits, a man who’s lived in Bozeman for over two decades and helped co-found the popular Outside Bozeman magazine.

Brit Fontenot, Bozeman’s Directory of Economic Development, welcomed the potential addition of a microdistillery to downtown. Read More…

Tavern Association Sours Montana Microbreweries’ Mash

By Brent Zundel
For the MSU Exponent
March 21, 2013

If one special interest group has its way, Montana taps might soon run dry from Wibaux to Whitefish. The Montana Tavern Association (MTA) has spent the current legislative session sponsoring bills that would devastate the state’s burgeoning microbrewery scene.

Illustration by Jen Rogers, MSU Exponent

Illustration by Jen Rogers, MSU Exponent

With our state ranking second in the nation for microbreweries per capita, Montanans love our beer. An October 2012 study showed that craft breweries contribute $50 million to the economy, $1.5 million to the state’s coffers and about 500 jobs to the state.

Despite this, at the start of the 2013 legislative session, Rep. Jeff Welborn, R-Dillon, introduced a bill that would have restricted microbreweries to selling only 10 percent of their beer on site. The rest would have to be sold at bars or retail outlets, a requirement that could have shuttered 31 of Montana’s 38 microbreweries. Vigorous and immediate uproar killed the bill.

The text of another MTA-backed bill, sponsored by Rep. Roger Hagan, R-Great Falls, was just released Tuesday, March 19. This bill is no better: It would allow breweries to sell only 40 percent of their beer in sample rooms. Read More…

Montana Legislature Lacks Land Ethic

By Brent Zundel
For the MSU Exponent
March 7, 2013

This week marks the halfway point of the 63rd Legislature. As that milestone blows past us like a half-bent mile marker on a poorly patrolled Montana highway, examining the progress so far proves very telling.

If one thing has become painfully obvious, it is the startling lack of a land ethic informing our legislators. Both this and the 2011 session have contained slews of bills designed to weaken access to public lands, damage the integrity of our wildlife populations, and privatize our rights to a clean environment in favor of industry profit.

On Monday, Feb. 18, sportsmen crowded the Montana Capitol in support of House Bill 235, which would have allowed corner crossings on public land. Photo by Eliza Wiley/Independent Record.

On Monday, Feb. 18, sportsmen crowded the Montana Capitol in support of House Bill 235, which would have allowed corner crossings on public land. Photo by Eliza Wiley/Independent Record.

And let’s be clear: Only one party consistently opposes reasonable solutions to many of these problems. The most recent example of the GOP’s unyielding opposition is the failure of House Bill 235, known as the “corner crossing bill.” Read More…

Student Voting Rights Threatened in 2013 Montana Legislature

By Brent Zundel
For the MSU Exponent
January 15, 2013

Students’ voting rights are again under fire as the 63rd Montana Legislature considers a number of bills that would disproportionately disenfranchise some of the most neglected segments of society.

In addition to undercutting the ability of many senior citizens, Native Americans and low-income Montanans — groups that are already especially vulnerable — to vote, the rights of students are also threatened.

This attitude toward students is, unfortunately, nothing new. Read More…

Wolves, Bison and Beer: What to Watch for in the 2013 Montana Legislature

By Brent Zundel
For the MSU Exponent
January 24, 2013

Beneath the specter of a sluggish economy, the Republican-controlled 63rd Montana Legislature convened Monday, Jan. 7, under the watchful eye of newly elected Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock.

The Exponent is covering many important issues in this week’s edition, but I’d like to highlight some issues that, though they may fly under the radar of the university’s steady “fund us!” drumbeat, will also impact students.

Public lands and wildlife policy

The 2011 session considered a record 110 bills related to fish, wildlife and land issues. At best, most of these were simply misguided, but some would have devastated central aspects of what it means to be a Montanan. Read More…

The Right to Roam: A New Land Ethic for Montana

Space to roam in the backcountry of the Crazy Mountains, north of Big Timber, Mont. Photo by Brent Zundel

By Brent Zundel
For the MSU Exponent
October 11, 2012

Montana has a strong tradition of public lands access. Our lands have united generations of hunters, anglers and hikers, but they’ve also bitterly divided private landowners, out-of-staters and just about everyone in between at some point.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) currently estimates that private landowners and businesses own a jaw-dropping two-thirds of the entire state. One need only try to find a patch of public land to hunt deer or elk in the Crazy Mountains or cast a fly in the Ruby or Shields Rivers to feel the stinging immediacy of this dilemma. For a state so firmly rooted in wild places, accessing those wild places can be an exercise in maddening frustration. Read More…

Marriage Equality Is a Montana Value

Photo by Samantha Katz, MSU Exponent

Photo by Samantha Katz, MSU Exponent

By Brent Zundel
For the MSU Exponent
September 6, 2012

Supporters of marriage equality converged on Bozeman this past June to celebrate the Montana Pride festival. More than any other feeling, a tangible sense of acceptance and support overwhelmed participants as the city came together in a big way.

During the parade, Main Street overflowed with happy, cheering supporters (and a lone megaphone-wielding protester). Young children and senior citizens, straight and homosexual Montanans, war veterans and Christians, nonprofits and Bozeman businesses marched down Main and watched from the sidewalk. Afterward, Diane Sands, the first openly gay member of the Montana Legislature; Jamee Greer, a lobbyist with the Montana Human Rights network; and many others spoke about both their personal and larger struggles. Read More…

Montana Challenges Citizens United

By Brent Zundel
For the MSU Exponent
June 8, 2012

It’s an exciting time to be a Montanan. Across the country, experts and average citizens alike claim that Montana poses the biggest challenge to the controversial Citizens United Supreme Court decision, a 2010 case widely credited with redefining the conception of corporate personhood and equating money with speech.

In 2011, the Montana Supreme Court heard Western Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Attorney General of Montana. Western Tradition Partnership, now known as American Tradition Partnership (ATP), is a rabidly anti-environmental conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C.

The group, which has broken numerous state campaign finance laws, challenged Montana’s 1912 Corrupt Practices Act, a law enacted by popular vote that prohibits corporations from making direct contributions to political campaigns.

“The greatest living issue that confronts us today is whether the corporations shall control the people, or the people shall control the corporations.” —1906 Montana newspaper

The Montana Supreme Court ruled 5 – 2 against ATP, upholding a century of reasonable restrictions that ensure the integrity of our state’s elections. Read More…

Montana Supreme Court Rebukes Corruption Under the Big Sky

By Brent Zundel
For the MSU Exponent
January 19, 2012

On Friday, Dec. 30, 2011, the Montana Supreme Court issued a ruling upholding the state’s ability to regulate how corporations can raise money and preventing them from directly spending it to influence elections. The opinion also contained stunning rebukes of the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous 2010 Citizens United decision.

The Citizens case overthrew a century of precedent by justifying corporate personhood and unlimited corporate spending as “speech.”

The conservative, radically anti-environmental political group Western Tradition Partnership, which has since changed its name to American Tradition Partnership, sued the State of Montana, relying on the Citizens ruling.

A Helena district judge ruled Montana’s ban unconstitutional, but the Montana Supreme Court overturned that decision, reinstating the century-old Corrupt Practices Act. This 1912 law prevents corporations from directly spending money to influence state elections and also sets aggressive disclosure requirements. Read More…

Public access under fire from Montana GOP

Public lands in the National Forest along the upper reaches of Lower Deer Creek, Montana. Photo by Brent Zundel

Public lands in the National Forest along the upper reaches of Lower Deer Creek, Montana. Photo by Brent Zundel

By Brent Zundel
For the MSU Exponent
March 3, 2011

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks employees might not be digging trenches in front of their offices around the state, but the agency is under fire from the Montana Legislature. Legislators are also attacking public access with over 150 bills that specifically target wildlife and public lands issues.

Some of the most ludicrous bills have been killed, but one of the most contentious still threatens Montanans. House Bill 309, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Welborn, R-Dillon, would gut the landmark 1985 Stream Access Law.

The result of conversations between landowners and recreationalists, the 1985 law allows public access in all rivers up to the high water mark, without regard to ownership of land below the river. In essence, it ensures that private citizens cannot own the rivers.

HB309 does not add any additional protection to private ditches – which are already protected under the old law. Instead, it would reclassify hundreds of miles of stream and river channels as irrigation ditches, thus inhibiting public access. Read More…