In a closely watched U.S. Senate race between Jon Tester and Denny Rehberg that is expected to see millions of dollars pour in from outside of Montana, Rehberg last week called for “100 percent transparency” in disclosing political campaign expenditures.
Rehberg, a Republican congressman vying to unseat incumbent Sen. Tester, made the comment in a wide-ranging interview with the Flathead Beacon on Jan. 16. The six-term congressman paid his filing fee earlier this month to make his Senate candidacy official.
Political spending disclosure has been a hot topic nationwide, particularly in the Republican presidential primary, where so-called “super PACs” are spending millions of dollars – often derived from anonymous sources – and exerting significant influence on the race.
Rehberg is aware of the robust spending expected, and already occurring, in his own race with Tester.
“Every dime ought to be disclosed,” the congressman said.
For his part, Tester has previously voted in favor of legislation strengthening disclosure requirements.
Rehberg acknowledged that neither he nor Tester have control over the activity of super PACs, as candidates are not allowed to have contact or coordinate with the groups.
“So ultimately we’re along for the ride,” he said.
In late December, the Montana Supreme Court restored the state’s century-old ban on corporate political spending, making Montana the only state to actively oppose a landmark 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. FEC. That decision granted political speech rights to corporations and unions.
The lead plaintiff in the Montana case, American Tradition Partnership, announced its intent to appeal the state ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, setting the stage for the nation’s high court to revisit its Citizens United ruling. Legal experts say the Montana ruling by itself only affects state campaigns and not federal races like that of Rehberg and Tester.
In addition to his busy campaign schedule, Rehberg said he has his “hands full” with his role as chairman of the House Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies. Rehberg said this year he is responsible for writing four separate appropriations bills, “something no one’s ever had to do before.”
Appropriation subcommittee chairmen are usually responsible for one appropriations bill, but Rehberg said he has to draft four to accommodate for various scenarios that may unfold at the federal level. He said his subcommittee must have a bill that will work if the federal health care reform law is found unconstitutional and one for the opposite scenario.
Similarly, Rehberg said there has to be two separate bills to account for automatic spending cuts going into effect or not. If Congress is unable to come up with a deficit-cutting plan, automatic cuts – a process known as sequestration – will be triggered beginning in January 2013.
“So I’ve got four different scenarios that I have to deal with and all of that has to be done by Oct. 1, which is when the new fiscal year starts,” he said.
Addressing the economic picture in Northwest Montana, which has maintained the state’s highest unemployment rates since the beginning of the recession, Rehberg said business is impeded by a lack of access to credit and uncertainty over both “taxation policy” and “regulatory policy.”
“Those two things coupled with the president’s health care reform has created so much uncertainty that the kinds of industries that are in the Flathead are afraid to do business,” he said. “So I’m looking for ways to help them with that uncertainty.”
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