Political Groups Ratchet Up GOP Primary Fights

By Beacon Staff

Two new political-action committees have spent $23,600 targeting Republican candidates on both sides of an intraparty struggle between conservative and moderate GOP factions ahead of next Tuesday’s primary elections.

The Billings-based Conservative Majority PAC has spent $12,500 over the past three weeks on mailers criticizing four incumbents who are part of a group of legislators that voted with minority Democrats to pass the state budget and other bills last year.

The second group called themselves “responsible Republicans” and criticized other Republicans in the Legislature as being extreme conservatives who sought to block school-funding legislation and any increase in state government spending.

Conservative Majority PAC has sent attack mailers against four state representatives in that group: Rob Cook of Conrad, Christy Clark of Choteau, Ray Shaw of Sheridan and Jeff Welborn of Dillon, all of whom face primary challengers.

Senate President Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, president of the Conservative Majority PAC, told Lee Newspapers of Montana the mailers are “a modest effort to go after four people who took bad votes.”

“We formed the PAC because we wanted to talk about actual votes that expanded government, and not, in our opinion, consistent with what most people would describe as conservative policies,” Essmann said.

Supporters of the “responsible Republicans” have formed their own PAC called Montanans for Responsible Leadership. That group has spent $11,100 on mailers critical of three House candidates in the other faction, Rep. Cary Smith, Randy Pinocci and Barry Usher.

Pinocci is trying to unseat “responsible Republican” Rep. Roger Hagan of Great Falls, while Usher is challenging another member of the moderate group, Rep. Duane Ankney of Colstrip, in the primary for new Senate District 20. Smith is trying to win an open Senate seat in Billings.

Montanans for Responsible Leadership reported receiving $20,000 from another PAC, Montana Business Advocates for Responsible Elections, which was formed in 2012 by several Republican legislators in response to election attacks by conservative outside groups. The new PAC also received $17,100 from individual donors.

Conservative Majority PAC reported $13,240 in donations, including $5,000 an engineer in Cody, Wyoming, and $5,000 total from three oil-company executives in Billings and Sidney.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.