The Montana Group Is A Helena-Based Consulting Firm That Hatches Nonprofits To Oppose Public Lands Protections For The Benefit Of Out-Of-State And Extractive Industries 

The Montana Group’s Principal Strategists Have Deep Ties To Extractive Industries And Republican Campaigns. Some Of Its Projects, Like The United Property Owners Of Montana, Count On Coal Montana, And Montana Oil, Gas, And Coal Counties, Also Serve Those Interests

The Montana Group Is A Public Relations, Political Consulting, and Government-Affairs Firm That “Hatches” Nonprofits To Advocate In Opposition To Public Lands Protections. “A self-proclaimed ‘public relations-political consulting-government affairs’ firm called The Montana Group…hatched different non-profits which have not revealed who their major financial supporters are.” [Mountain Journal, 06/14/18]

The Montana Group’s Principal Strategists– Chuck Denowh, Dennis Iverson, and Shelby Demars– Are All Tied To Republican Politics, The Extractive Industry, Or Both. Some Of Its Spinoff Nonprofits Include The United Property Owners Of Montana, Montana Oil, Gas, and Coal Counties, And Count On Coal Montana.  “The three bulwark strategists of The Montana Group are Chuck Denowh, former executive director of the Montana Republican Party, head of the GOP caucus in the legislature and campaign roles with state attorney general Tim Fox and U.S. Sen. Steve Daines; former GOP legislator, and board member of realtor and fossil fuel organizations Dennis Iverson; and Shelby Demars, communications director for Zinke’s successful 2014 campaign for Montana’s lone U.S. House seat in Congress and campaign manager for Tim Fox’s re-election as the state’s top elected lawyer.  Demars also is a close friend of Zinke’s Interior Press Secretary Heather Swift, who previously had also served on Zinke’s congressional team. On Facebook she also identifies herself as executive director of Montana Oil, Gas and Coal Counties. The reach of those involved with The Montana Group stretches in many different directions. It’s spinoff, United Property Owners of Montana (UPOM), even got involved in the fray over the city of Missoula’s quest to control its only water supply.” [Mountain Journal, 06/14/18]

The Montana Group’s Principals Are Lobbyists For Corporate Interests 

Chuck Denowh Has Lobbied For Several Big Corporations, Including Coal Companies

In 2009, Chuck Denowh Lobbied The Montana Legislature For Abbot Laboratories. [Montana Commissioner Of Political Practices Lobbyist Search, accessed 08/08/19]

In 2011, Chuck Denowh Lobbied The Montana Legislature For Signal Peak Energy. [Montana Commissioner Of Political Practices Lobbyist Search, accessed 08/08/19]

In 2013, Chuck Denowh Lobbied The Montana Legislature For TracFone Wireless. [Montana Commissioner Of Political Practices Lobbyist Search, accessed 08/08/19]

In 2015, Chuck Denowh Lobbied The Montana Legislature For Alternatives, Inc, Uber Technologies, Cloud Peak Energy, and Signal Peak Energy. [Montana Commissioner Of Political Practices Lobbyist Search, accessed 08/08/19]

In 2017, Chuck Denowh Lobbied The Montana Legislature For Uber Technologies, Blue Cross Blue Shield, DraftKings Inc, And FanDuel Inc. [Montana Commissioner Of Political Practices Lobbyist Search, accessed 08/08/19]

Shelby DeMars Has Lobbied For A Coal Company

In 2015, Shelby DeMars Lobbied The Montana Legislature For Cloud Peak Energy. [Montana Commissioner Of Political Practices Lobbyist Search, accessed 08/08/19]

In 2017, Shelby DeMars Lobbied The Montana Legislature For The Montana Association of Oil, Gas, & Coal Counties Inc., FanDuel Inc., and DraftKings Inc. [Montana Commissioner Of Political Practices Lobbyist Search, accessed 08/08/19]

Dennis Iverson Has Lobbied For Several Big Corporations And Extractive Industry Associations

In 2017, Dennis Iverson Lobbied The Montana Legislature For The Pharmaceutical Research And Manufacturers Of America And The Northern Montana Oil & Gas Association. [Montana Commissioner Of Political Practices Lobbyist Search, accessed 08/08/19]

In 2019, Dennis Iverson Lobbied The Montana Legislature For The Pharmaceutical Research And Manufacturers Of America And The Northern Montana Oil & Gas Association. [Montana Commissioner Of Political Practices Lobbyist Search, accessed 08/08/19]

Chuck Denowh Is A Long-Time Partisan Who Recruits Businesses To Get Involved In “Swift Boat-Style” Campaigning 

Denowh Became A “Senior Adviser” Of The Montana Romney For President Team In October 2007.  “Denowh began his political career on the staff of the Montana House of Representatives, where he worked as Chief Policy Aide for the House Majority Leaders in 2001 and 2003. Denowh earned his BA and MPA from the University of Montana. He’s a Montana native from Sidney, where his family maintains a registered Angus cattle operation. […] Chuck Denowh Most Recently Served As The Executive Director Of The Montana Republican Party. In four years time under Denowh’s leadership, the Party grew from three employees to twenty and fundraising nearly tripled. He also implemented Montana’s first party-based grassroots organization with offices in seven counties serving over 1,000 volunteers statewide. Following the 2006 election, Chuck left the Republican Party to start his own political consulting business and he joined the Montana Group in mid-2007.” [State News Service, 10/25/07]

Chuck Denowh Says A BLM Director Who Wants To Sell Off Montana’s Public Lands Is “Great News For Montana.” Chuck Denowh wrote an op-ed praising William Perry Pendley’s appointment to lead the Bureau of Land Management. Denowh wrote, “The truth is that Pendley brings a wealth of expertise on federal land management, and all indications are he will be great benefit to Western states. So when you see wild claims from his detractors — like that he’s going to sell off federal lands — question who those critics truly represent, because odds are they’re drawing a paycheck from an out-of-state environmental group.” [The Missoulian, 08/06/19]

Chuck Denowh Recruited Montana Businesses To Get Involved In “‘Swift Boat-Style” Campaigning 

Chuck Denowh Said He Was “Actively Recruiting Montana Businesses To Get Involved” In PAC-Funded, Negative Campaigning. “In fact, Denowh said he’s actively recruiting Montana businesses to get involved in PAC campaigning, adding that ‘there’s more money in the political process this year than there’s ever been before.’ The increasing influence of these ‘independent expenditures,’ as they’re known, is changing the nature of Montana politics, Denowh said, by forcing candidates to defend themselves against outsiders, rather than focusing on their own campaigns. Denowh predicts voters will see more of this third-party campaigning, because ‘the business community has finally figured out that you can do this.’” [Missoulian, 10/26/08]

The Montana Commissioner Of Political Practices Compared Denowh’s Campaigning To “Swift Boat-Style” Because They Take “‘A Fact Out Of Context, And Turn It Into A Whole Sensational Story.” “’We’re seeing more and more of the Swift Boat-style of campaigning,’ (Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Commissioner Dennis) Unsworth said, referring to a third-party group that attacked Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s military record in 2004. ‘Come in late and hit hard with money that the state can’t easily trace.’ He’s especially distressed by fliers and ads that ‘take a kernel of truth, or a fact out of context, and turn it into a whole sensational story that’s not quite an honest story, even if it is technically factual.” [Missoulian, 10/26/08]

One Of Chuck Denowh’s Ads Said One Candidate “Has Not Protected Children From Sexual Predators.” (Mike) Jopek is a Democrat and the incumbent state representative from House District 4. His challenger is Republican John Fuller. But Fuller had nothing to do with a controversial flier mailed out last week, a ‘hit piece’ Jopek says implied that he has not protected children from sexual predators. That mailer came from an independent political action committee, called the FBIA PAC. To understand that Fuller was not behind the flier, voters first had to read the fine print, then contact the state Commissioner of Political Practices, request the PAC’s paperwork, and finally do a quick background search. Those who took the time learned that FBIA is the Flathead Business and Industry Association, and that its PAC was registered not in the Flathead, but in Helena, by Charles Denowh. He’s the former head of Montana’s Republican Party, and now is treasurer of several conservative PACs.” [Missoulian, 10/26/08]

United Property Owners Of Montana (UPOM Is A Nonprofit “Hatched” By The Montana Group To Oppose Conservation And Public Lands Interests 

UPOM Is A Nonprofit “Hatched” By The Montana Group

United Property Owners of Montana was “‘hatched’” by The Montana Group, a public relations, political consulting, and government affairs consulting firm. [Mountain Journal, 06/14/18]

UPOM’s Staff Is Run By The Montana Group. UPOM “lists former Montana Republican Party executive director Chuck Denowh as its policy director and Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke’s former communication director, Shelby DeMars, as its lobbyist.” [The Missoulian, 10/15/16]

UPOM Also Involves Other People. United Property Owners of Montana’s “team” includes Chuck Denowh as policy director and Shelby DeMars as a lobbyist. Both of them work for The Montana Group. United Property Owners of Montana also lists Mark & Deanna Robbins, Toby & Jody Dahl, Don Proue, and Dave & Cindy Abel as members of its “team,” but does not describe their roles. [United Property Owners of Montana, accessed 10/29/18]

UPOM Opposes National Monument Designations Because It Believes They Are “Flagrant Land Grabs”

UPOM Supported The Trump Administration’s Monument Review, Saying Recent Presidents Have Abused The Antiquities Act. It Says The Designation Of Missouri Breaks National Monument Was A “‘Flagrant Land Grab.’” In an op-ed, United Property Owners of Montana policy director Chuck Denowh wrote, “Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has made an admirable attempt to solicit input from Montanans about how national monuments have affected our state. It’s unfortunate that effort has been drowned out by fake advertisements aimed at misleading Montanans and funded by out-of-state environmental groups. Opposition to the monuments review centers on the ridiculous claim that it will result in the federal government selling federal land to private entities. Not only is that the direct opposite of Secretary Zinke’s stated objective, it’s illegal for the federal government to sell public land […] It is obvious these statutory limitations have been flagrantly ignored over the last 20 years. Since 1996, presidents have used the act to create 26 monuments larger than 100,000 acres. These 26 monuments aren’t restricted to existing federal lands — in all cases private lands have been swept up in these massive monument designations. A skewed conception of monuments has developed. The Antiquities Act was intended to protect things like archaeological sites and geological formations. It was never intended to encompass vast swathes of land. The most notorious example is the Missouri Breaks monument, which sweeps around and isolates over 80,000 acres of private land. The Breaks monument designation didn’t provide any new protections for the Missouri River, which was already protected with a Wild and Scenic River designation — this designation was simply a flagrant land grab.” [The Missoulian, 09/20/17]

UPOM Carries Water For Out-Of-State Interests 

UPOM Represents ‘‘’Out-Of-State Interests That Happen To Own Land In Montana.’” “Scott Stearns, an attorney at Boone Karlberg law firm representing the city, also questioned UPOM’s motivations, along with its funding sources. ‘United Property Owners of Montana claimed in its filing to the Montana Supreme Court that it’s interested in protection of Montanans’ property rights,’ Stearns said. ‘By ‘Montanans,’ they apparently mean out-of-state interests that happen to own land in Montana. […] If UPOM wants to look out for the rights of Montanans, they shouldn’t be carrying water for a D.C.-based hedge fund that a Montana court determined is not living up to industry standards and is doing a poor job of utilizing Missoula’s water resources.’” [The Missoulian, 10/15/16]

UPOM Argued In Favor Of The Mountain Water Co. In A Dispute With The City Of Missoula. “A group of eastern Montana ranchers represented by a Billings law firm has filed a brief with the Montana Supreme Court, contending the city of Missoula failed to meet the statutory requirements needed to win its condemnation case against Mountain Water Co. The brief has left the city and its attorneys questioning the group’s funding history, its ties to the Republican-held Montana Public Service Commission, and its true motivations in the case.” [The Missoulian, 10/15/16]

The Mayor Of Missoula Questioned UPOM’s Funding. “Missoula Mayor John Engen and attorneys representing the city questioned the motivation of United Property Owners of Montana – a group that lists former Montana Republican Party executive director Chuck Denowh as its policy director and Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke’s former communication director, Shelby DeMars, as its lobbyist.  Engen said the group isn’t looking to protect property rights in the Mountain Water case, since the only property in question is owned by The Carlyle Group, an international corporate conglomerate valued at $800 billion and headquartered in Washington, D.C. ‘It’s fair to wonder who’s really paying for UPOM’s participation in this case and why,’ Engen said. ‘This case is about the people of Missoula controlling their water future.’” [The Missoulian, 10/15/16]

None of UPOM’s Leadership Or Members Had A Stake In The Case. “‘UPOM’s leadership appears to consist of eastern Montana ranchers who likely do not use any municipal water system, let alone Montana’s only privately owned water monopoly,’ Engen said. ‘They have no stake in the outcome of this case, and no say in Missoula’s water future.’” [The Missoulian, 10/15/16]

UPOM Supports Restricting Stream Access To Make It Harder For Montanans To Access Their Public Land

UPOM Criticized A Montana Supreme Court Ruling That Said A Private Landowner Couldn’t Fence The Public Out Of The Ruby River. Denowh Said The Case Should Be Appealed To The US Supreme Court. “A landowner’s claim that he can keep the public out of a portion of the Ruby River doesn’t hold water, the state Supreme Court said…in a decision upholding Montana’s stream-access laws. The 5-2 decision favored the Public Land and Water Access Association in its legal dispute with Madison County and James Cox Kennedy, the chairman of Atlanta-based media company Cox Enterprises, who owns about 10 miles along the river in the county. The group said Kennedy built fences along county roads and bridges next to his land that prevented the public from using rights of way to reach the Ruby River. Kennedy argued that the state’s 1985 Stream Access Law allowing access to streams within the high-water mark and a 2009 law allowing access from bridges are an ‘unconstitutional taking of his vested property rights.’ Kennedy argued that because he owns that portion of the riverbed, he has the right to exclude people from wading or floating on the water above […] Chuck Denowh, head of United Property Owners of Montana, said the decision erodes property rights and he urged an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the state’s stream access law. ‘The court is essentially saying that the county government can give the public permission to enter private land if it is near a road. We have a term for that: trespass,’ Denowh said in a statement.” [Great Falls Tribune, 01/15/14]

UPOM “Has Lobbied Montana Lawmakers To Restrict Stream Access For Montana Fishermen And To Make It Harder For Montana Hunters To Access Public Lands. ”Scott Stearns, an attorney at Boone Karlberg law firm representing the city” [of Missoula] said, “UPOM has lobbied Montana lawmakers to restrict stream access for Montana fishermen and to make it harder for Montana hunters to access public lands” in lobbying and court filings. [The Missoulian, 10/16/15]

United Property Owners Of Montana Opposed Legislation that “prevents landowners with property that surrounds state land from allowing only certain wildlife outfitters access, sometimes through leasing” to the landlocked state public lands. In 2017, “members of the Montana House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee heard a bill…that would require landowners to allow anyone access through their land in order to reach nearby public lands. Introduced by Rep. Tom Jacobson, D-Great Falls, House Bill 243 specifically prevents landowners with property that surrounds state land from allowing only certain wildlife outfitters access, sometimes through leasing. ‘There’s 1.2 million acres of inaccessible state land in the state of Montana,’ Jacobson said.” He “said it’s an issue of equity. He argued landowners should not be able to restrict access to publicly owned land just because they own property adjacent to it. ‘We’re just saying you can’t license somebody to do outfitting on state land that is not legally accessible to the public,’ Jacobson said. […] Representing United Property Owners of Montana, Shelby DeMars said the bill ‘does numerous things that infringe on a very serious level our constitutional right to private property.’ DeMars said the state should work with landowners to find public land access solutions, rather than ‘forcing’ the landowner to do so.” [Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 01/28/17]

UPOM Says It Supports Grazing Rights, But It Campaigns Against Them When They Belong To Conservationists

UPOM Opposes Grazing Rights Belonging To The American Prairie Reserve (APR), A Conservation Group Seeking To Restore Bison To Federal Grazing Allotments. Chuck Denowh Says He Wants To “Wipe The APR From The Map.”

Chuck Denowh Says He Wants To “Wipe The APR From The Map.” In an op-ed, Chuck Denowh wrote, “APR’s ultimate objective is to create a free-roaming bison herd, which by definition means that neighboring landowners will be forced to have wild bison on their property as well… That’s sparked a grassroots movement in the communities APR wants to take over and eliminate. Signs with the message ‘Save the Cowboy, STOP American Prairie Reserve’ are now ubiquitous throughout the area. Heinlein struggled to understand what that means, to stop APR. Let’s make it simple so he can understand, our objective is to turn the tables and wipe the APR from the map.” [Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 11/09/18]

Without Evidence, Chuck Denowh Claims That APR’s Effort To Create A Contiguous Grazing Space For Its Bison Herd Is A “Fundamental Threat” To Ranching. In an op-ed, Denowh wrote, “The radical proposal by the American Prairie Reserve to fundamentally shift long-established grazing practices on 250,000 acres of public property ought to be rejected by the Bureau of Land Management. Not only would the proposal cause destruction of rangeland and wildlife habitat, ultimately the APR represents a fundamental threat to the Montana ranching families who’ve made this area their home for generations.” [Montana Standard, 04/12/18]

Chuck Denowh, On Behalf Of United Property Owners Of Montana, Has Made “Claims Involving Bison That, Upon Analysis, Do Not Hold Up To Scrutiny.” United Property Owners of Montana Policy Director Chuck “Denowh has made a lot of claims involving bison that, upon analysis, do not hold up to scrutiny.” […] “In comments to reporters and in op-eds he’s penned for United Property Owners of Montana, [he] has opposed the American Prairie Reserve’s request to graze bison the same as private cattle on public lands. He wrote, ‘Not only would the proposal cause destruction of rangeland and wildlife habitat, ultimately the APR represents a fundamental threat to the Montana ranching families who’ve made this area their home for generations.’ Denowh has also implied that Yellowstone bison headed to Fort Peck could cause containment issues and property damage, and he has falsely portrayed wandering Yellowstone bison as representing the eminent risk for passing along brucellosis to private cattle, when the findings of two separate National Academies of Sciences reports clearly show that risk resides with elk.” [Mountain Journal, 06/14/18]

The Montana Group Ran A Nonprofit That Fought Public Lands Protections And Regulation On Behalf Of The Coal Industry  

The Montana Group Managed An Astroturf Nonprofit Called “Count On Coal Montana” To Echo Coal Industry Talking Points 

Count on Coal Montana was “Hatched” by The Montana Group, A Public Relations And Political Consulting Firm. [The Mountain Journal, 06/14/18

Count On Coal Montana Does Not Disclose Its Contributors. [The Mountain Journal, 06/14/18]

Count On Coal Montana Was A Coal Industry Apologist That Attacked Anybody Who Criticized Coal 

When Arch Coal Filed For Bankruptcy And Cited Market Difficulties, Count On Coal Montana Blamed Environmentalists. “The company announced today that a weakening coal market and an uncertain permitting process prompted it to shelve the Otter Creek mine proposal. Shelby DeMars of the coal advocacy group, Count on Coal Montana, says this is a disappointing turn of events: ‘We’re finally seeing the results of the war on coal that’s being waged by environmental groups and politicians. Otter Creek would have created 4,400 new jobs for Montanans. It would have been a huge boon to our state economy. We’ve completely lost that as a direct result of the red tape that the permitting process and coal development in general has had to undergo.’ Coal opponents counter that low coal prices are making mines untenable, and expressed relief at Arch Coal’s decision.” [Montana Public Radio, 03/10/16]

Count On Coal Attacked Steve Bullock For Not Pushing Back Against A Federal Plan To Cut Carbon Pollution From Power Plants. “The Bullock administration Friday unveiled five options for how Montana can meet proposed federal rules to combat climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions — and none includes shutting down or curtailing existing coal-fired power plants… Bullock’s options are in response to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which in June announced targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and asked each state to draw up a plan for meeting the target… ‘What we should be doing right now is looking at the pros and cons of the EPA rule and whether we should be doing it or not,’ said Chuck Denowh, spokesman for Count on Coal Montana, a coalition of the industry and supporting businesses. ‘We’re seeing other elected officials raise those questions, other governors,” he added. “It’s disappointing that Governor Bullock has chosen not to participate in that discussion and instead embrace the president’s rule.’” [Billings Gazette, 09/19/14]

Count On Coal Praised Disgraced EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt After He Was Forced To Resign For Ethical Lapses. When EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned, Count on Coal Montana spokeswoman Shelby DeMars praised him. She said, “‘he started the ball rolling in the right direction in terms of peeling back some of the regulations that we saw the Obama administration put in place that were punitive towards fossil fuels, certainly towards the coal industry.’” She continued, “‘our hope is that [Acting Administrator Andrew] Wheeler will continue the successful regulatory reform process that has begun under Pruitt, and that the EPA can create the regulatory certainty that our utility industry needs to invest in long term emission reduction technology.’” [Montana Public Radio, 07/06/18]

Count On Coal Montana Opposed The Stream Protection Rule And Other Regulations To Limit Pollution To Public Lands And Water 

Count on Coal Montana Opposed the Stream Protection Rule. “The Stream Protection Rule was designed to protect waterways from coal mining waste; a goal that was entirely unnecessary according to Shelby DeMars of the pro-coal group Count on Coal Montana: ‘Montana has, bar none, some of the best stream protection, clean air and clean water regulations in place already. That federal rule would have been duplicative and would have hurt coal production in the state of Montana for really, no additional gain.’” [Montana Public Radio, 02/17/17]

Count on Coal Montana Praised Donald Trump For Promising To Overturn Obama-Era Regulations That Mitigated Pollution From The Coal Industry.  In an op-ed, Shelby Demars wrote, “President-elect Donald Trump’s electoral upset has brought hope to many whose livelihoods depend on coal. Trump promised economic growth and job creation in the form of bolstering American coal production, and thus far his actions have followed his campaign promises. His selection of Montana’s Rep. Ryan Zinke as secretary of the Interior and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as chief of the Environmental Protection Agency indicates that America’s energy future will look vastly different than it has in the past. Throughout the Obama administration, the Department of Interior and the EPA were used to implement activist policies of extreme environmental groups, and Montana has been among the states most impacted by the administration’s anti-coal agenda. But that may all soon change. With Zinke and Pruitt at the helm of the Department of Interior and the EPA, energy producers may be looking forward to a more stable regulatory environment and new opportunities for growth.” [Billings Gazette, 12/28/16]