Political research group might sell Montana land

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Associated Press

Posted on March 24, 2014 at 2:02 PM

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — Employees of Project Vote Smart said the national political research group laid off six workers without notice over the past week, while a member of its executive board said the board is discussing selling the nonprofit's 50-acre ranch near Philipsburg and moving the operation to a university.

Staff member Andrew Bennett said he and another staffer were laid off March 19, five days after four other staffers were let go, the Missoulian reported (http://bit.ly/1lgGkob). Another employee, Claire Battaglia, said she resigned over the way the initial layoffs were handled.

Richard Kimball founded Project Vote Smart in 1992 to collect and distribute information on candidates for public office across the country. The information is published on a website and in printed form. The nonprofit group's work is funded by individual donations and grants from nonpartisan charities.

Kimball's wife, Adelaide Elm, declined to confirm the layoffs but said the organization is cutting its operating budget due to a decrease in contributions. The cuts could include selling the organization's southwestern Montana ranch.

"The board is considering the idea," Elm told the newspaper. "What we've learned over these many years is that it is very expensive to operate a national research center on a 50-acre ranch in the middle of the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness area."

The organization bought the ranch to attract college interns to do some of the work.

"We wanted to provide a place to house and feed them and pay them off with a wonderful wilderness experience," she said. "From there, they track 40,000 candidates. Project Vote Smart is kind of an unusual experiment, and it worked for that purpose very well.

However, the group's costs have gone up, Elm said.

"The board is considering the possibility of returning to the model we started with, which is returning to a university," she said, adding Project Vote Smart has an office at the University of Texas at Austin.

Elm said the organization is making cuts to the $1.2 million budget it had during the last election season. "We are cutting back on horses and we put in a wood boiler to replace the propane. We are economizing where we can," and putting the focus back on providing citizens a source of information they can trust, she said.

"The expense and distraction of running a motel, a restaurant and dude ranch in order to attract free labor is maybe not the right model anymore in the world."

Before the layoffs, Project Vote Smart had 20 full-time staff members along with several interns at the ranch.

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Online: http://votesmart.org/

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Information from: Missoulian, http://www.missoulian.com

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