ProPublica

Journalism in the Public Interest

Cancel

Key Montana Senate Race Draws Deluge of Dark Money

More TV ads have been purchased in the race than in any other Senate contest in the country, including many paid for by outside money groups.

.

Sen. Jon Tester, right, speaks during a debate with Rep. Denny Rehberg on Oct. 8, in Billings, Mont. More TV ads have been purchased in their race than in any other Senate contest in the country. (Casey Page, Billings Gazette/AP Photo)

Montana is known for its big skies, jagged mountains and open roads. Not so much for people.

Yet as much as $40 million is being spent to tell the state's 675,000 registered voters who to pick as senator: incumbent Democrat Jon Tester or Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg. That's almost $60 for every potential voter.

Much of the TV ad spending is being done by outside groups that do not have to identify their donors, unseen hands that may tip a race that could determine which party controls the Senate.

More than 20 dark-money groups have chimed in so far, from big shots like Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS to obscurities like Citizens for Strength and Security Fund. More TV ads — an estimated 89,000 between June 1 and Oct. 21 — have run in the Tester vs. Rehberg face-off than in any other Senate race in the country, the Wesleyan Media Project says.

"I made a joke recently to some people that I was going to sit down and watch a discussion of the Senate race, interrupted by some football," said Bowen Greenwood, the head of Montana's Republican Party. "Nobody really understands how to adapt to this new landscape yet. We're all doing this by the seat of our pants."

Greenwood's lament gets at what life has become in the new post-Citizens United, Wild West of campaign finance. The ad saturation has been highest in close Senate races, not only in Montana, but in Wisconsin, Indiana and Virginia, according to Wesleyan's study of estimates by Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks broadcast and national cable spots. And still, despite the millions spent, Tester and Rehberg are locked in a tight race, with a recent poll showing Rehberg slightly ahead.

David Parker, an associate professor at Montana State University who is writing a book on the Tester-Rehberg Senate race, estimates that as much as $15 million more will be spent to win the seat than was spent in 2006.

Outside groups could account for half the spending on TV commercials, most of which are attack ads.

"They're just harsh and negative and mean," Parker said.

Much of the spending has been on so-called "issue" ads that ran outside the reporting window for the Federal Election Commission, but Parker has driven around the state twice to collect information from TV stations on spending.

The influx of outsiders may be turning off some voters. Liberal groups with Montana-sounding names — think "rural" and "hunters" — have been accused of being fronts for national environmental interests. A cable system pulled one negative Crossroads ad for falsehoods — rare this election season. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce drew ridicule for an ad opposing "John" Tester.

Smaller groups show not only how dark the money can be, but how odd.

A nonprofit called America Is Not Stupid, incorporated last year in Florida, is among those running ads in Montana. The IRS has no record of the group's tax-exempt status. Its purported president, Miguel Angel Gutierrez, was not findable, and the lawyer who founded it, Gene Peek, didn't return phone calls. Its ad features a baby in need of a diaper change.

"I don't know what smells worse: my diaper or Jon Tester," the voiceover says.

Greenwood said a constituent had called to ask if America Is Not Stupid was affiliated with the Republican Party. The GOP state director said he'd never heard of the group.

"Politicians care a great deal about their message," he said. "And nobody is happy that somebody else is dictating what we're talking about rather than our candidates."

clarence swinney

Nov. 5, 2012, 3:29 p.m.

CORPOCRACY OF AMERICA
May it survive Corpocracy and go back to Democracy
My Solutions——
A. People repeal Corp is a man

B. Fed Fund Election-Stop two yr campaigns waste of money/ time
6 months—3 for Primary Campaign—3 For General Campaign
free equal tv time-provided by “our” tv airwaves
One Debate a week. That is 12 And is adequate to evaluate candidates,
This stops need to raise campaign funds. Congress and White House can stay on the job instead of constant traveling to raise funds. Restrict outside campaign funds.

C. Since there is no need for campaign funds BAN members of the government from receiving anything with a financial value current or future promises. Stop the bribing by Lobbyists.

D. Progressive Flat Tax By Group-we have a $14,000 income a 3800B budget yet rank #2 in oecd nations as lowest taxed. We refuse to tax wealth enough to pay our way. They have the money.
Top 50% get 87% (agi) of Income and pay 13.5% Tax Rate.
Bottom 50% or 70,000,000 workers get 13% not enough to pay much in taxes.
They pay a greater percent of that Income in payroll- state-local taxes than many top incomes.
It has been a disgrace that top ceos can get enormous increases in pay and many of 70,000,000 cannot get an increase in the minimum wage to better their standard of living.
In A Christian nation I often wonder what Jesus Christ would say to us?

E. Tax Book—burn that sucker. start anew. Any request for an exemption be televised so the public can watch attempts at bribery. It is so sad that in 2011 corporations with record profits paid 12.1% Tax Rate for second lowest in oecd nations. It is sad when we borrow $1300B with $14,000B income.
because we tax only $2300B or 16.4% Tax Rate yet top incomes had huge pay increases.
Job Creators=lowest since Hoover =while rich got ultra rich and masses borrowed from those rich to keep a decent standard of living. While top 10% gained to 73% of Net Wealth—to 83% of Financial Wealth and got 50% of individual income. While 70,000,000 got 13% of income.

F. Tight audits and cut spending on Defense and Medicare the too biggies on unnecessary spending.
Example—In San Francisco, colon exam is $7500 and $1500 in southern calif. hospitals.
This per Head of public employee health care for calif. Example:elevated blood pressure. Two tests. Nitro patch on chest in bed nine hours. $6,000. Yes! $6,000.

nobody is happy that somebody else is dictating what we’re talking about rather than our candidates

Take a good look at this Greenwood, because he’s just shown the way any campaign finance reform that actually happens might play out.  They’ll push the “rogue interests” (which include you and I) angle as a way of chilling discussion of the candidates in areas they don’t want to talk about.

Crossroads GPS?  Fine.  Unions?  Fine.  You can count on them to toe party lines.  But someone who wants to talk about an issue that’s not on the candidates’ agendas?  No, sorry, free speech only applies if you have a mainstream agenda.

Not that I support this AINS or know either of these candidates from a hole in the ground, but the idea that they’re somehow objectionable because they’re not somehow officially part of the campaign?  Very scary.

Incidentally, Tim Bishop’s House race is getting creepy.  I don’t much like or dislike him (he votes for the party, not any value system) and he’s not my district regardless, but he’s apparently spending millions on his campaign and he’s opposed by ads from Crossroads and AFP.

No matter who wins today, our democracy is in crisis. Ordinary Americans cannot compete with the virtually unlimited resources of corporations, especially as these corporations support politicians who will legislate in favor of the corporate interests and against the interests of ordinary citizens. Sign the petition for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United ruling at http://www.democracyisforpeople.org .

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling only serves to magnify the damage done by corporate spending on political campaigns. Sign the petition for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United ruling (http://www.democracyisforpeople.org).