War of Words Over Money Escalates in Montana Senate Race

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – The Republican challenger in Montana’s U.S. Senate race boldly escalated the battle over outside money Friday by calling on a total ban to any money not raised in Montana — and an immediate refund of millions of dollars in outside money raised so far.

The unique proposal from Congressman Denny Rehberg would have a dramatic impact on a Montana race that has already seen both he and U.S. Sen. Jon Tester benefit by big spending from out-of-state groups.

Earlier this week, Tester asked Rehberg to join him in barring third-party advertisements from the race for the Democratic incumbent’s seat.

Rehberg proposed Friday to take that idea much further. He is calling for each campaign to immediately return all money donated by PACs, lobbyists and anyone who does not live in Montana. He wants to limit future donations to just individual Montana residents.

His proposal would impose penalties on any campaign that is aided by third-party allies, just like Tester called for earlier this week.

Tester’s campaign said it was reviewing Rehberg’s counter-offer.

“It is simple, tough, and it will do good,” Rehberg said in a letter to Tester. “It will make our state proud, and set an example for the nation for how to deal with outside money.”

The Rehberg letter also got in a couple of digs at Tester for the money his campaign has taken from lobbyists, and questioned the authenticity of Tester’s original proposal by suggesting it could be “a self-serving political ploy.”

Rehberg campaign manager Erik Iverson said the ban would even extend to advertising from either the Montana Republican or Democratic parties. It would also ban the candidates from using any of their own personal money in the race.

The proposal from Rehberg goes much further than one seen in the Massachusetts Senate race in which Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and Democratic rival Elizabeth Warren signed a pledge to curb third-party political attack ads. It did not ban any of the contributions to the individual campaigns.

A former chairman of the chairman of the Federal Election Commission said he has not seen pledges like this before, which are sparked by concern over the so-called super PACs and other political spending.

Michael Toner said the scope of Rehberg’s proposal would dramatically change the race because Montana is so attractive to outside groups due to the relatively cheap television advertising market.

“This would be a very stringent deal. We are playing with live bullets here and would have a definite impact on the race,” Toner said. “This deal goes right to the heart of the cash-in-hand figures with the retroactive nature of the refunds.”