HELENA - An anonymous liberal blogger with an uncanny knack for sharp insider information who has used the state Capitol complex computer system to write political commentary is coming under fire from fellow progressives for making fun of gays to score political points.
A recent Montana Cowgirl blog post compares a picture of a Democratic legislative candidate to his Republican opponent. Kendall Van Dyk, the Democrat, is shown in hunting garb with a dead buck and a caption that reads "Man." Republican Roy Brown is shown in a picture wearing a sweater and a shoulder bag with a caption that says "Man Purse."
The race between Van Dyk and Brown for a Billings Senate seat is one of the most heated legislative races of this campaign, and the post by the left-leaning, anonymous blogger underlines questions of accountability in attempting to influence elections in the new media age. Especially with posts coming from inside state government.
The Montana Cowgirl blogger, who has gone to great lengths to remain anonymous, has in the past posted commentary through the state government-run computer system, the Associated Press has learned.
The post has prompted lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists to accuse the blogger of perpetuating stereotypes that a "real man" is more qualified.
"I think there is a danger in saying one candidate is more of a man than another," said Jamee Greer of the Montana Human Rights Network. "This type of message can help create a hostile environment where LBGT Montanans feel pressured to conform or face harmful and potentially dangerous repercussions."
It's not the first time the anonymous Montana Cowgirl - an ardent backer of Gov. Brian Schweitzer - has raised suspicion. The blogger has refused to reveal his or her identity.
Past posts by the blogger have even released on the Internet potentially incriminating Department of Labor enforcement documents sent to one of Schweitzer's political critics - even before one of those letters was received by the businessman being investigated. The Labor Department said those documents were never released to a member of the news media or public.
The blogger also has arduously defended the governor, and lampooned even those fellow Democrats whom Schweitzer has been at odds with - such as senior U.S. Sen. Max Baucus.
Eric Stern, senior counselor to the governor, said the governor's office knows nothing about the identity of a blogger who was promised anonymity by his or her former hosts at the liberal Left In The West blog.
The Montana Cowgirl blogger launched its own Web site last summer after the Left In The West blog decided the strictly anonymous relationship was no longer working out.
Associated Press research into the identity found that the blogger registered through third parties to remain anonymous. But posts made elsewhere by that blogging handle were still tracked to the state computer system.
The Department of Administration, provided with detail on the IP address of some posts, was able to identify that the blogger had been accessing - all day long at times - the state wireless guest system through a hookup in the Office of Public Instruction using an Apple Macintosh laptop.
The agency spokeswoman at the time, Jessica Rhoades, said it was not coming from the agency.
Rhoades, who recently went to work for the governor's office, said the agency's information technology found at that time the wireless system could theoretically be accessed by someone sitting in the parking lot. The identification number she provided from her laptop did not match the one used by the blogger.
In e-mail exchanges with the Associated Press, the blogger refused to reveal an identity but denied the "Man Purse" joke was a jab at gays.