Rep. Denny Rehberg last week stepped up the game, responding to a call from Sen. Jon Tester asking for an end to all third-party advertising in their 2012 U. S. Senate campaign — a request Tester’s campaign called “self-serving. ”
The congressman issued a “Made in Montana Pledge, ” saying both candidates should return all lobbyist and out-of-state campaign contributions.
“In short, my Made in Montana Pledge truly makes this a campaign by and about Montanans and will guarentee an election free from out-of-state money and outside influences, ” Rehberg wrote to Tester Friday. “I’m willing to take you at your word that you are serious about ‘steering this campaign toward Montana’s values of honesty, accountability and transparency. ’ I am hopeful your word is good, and that you sign the Made in Montana Pledge. ”
Tester’s campaign manager said this morning that Rehberg’s agreement is not about transparency.
"Congressman Rehberg rejected Jon's good-faith proposal so his big corporate allies could keep running secretly funded attack ads with no transparency, ” Tester campaign manager Preston Elliott said.
“Until Congressman Rehberg stops hiding the tens of thousands of dollars he's taken from out-of-state lobbyists, we are not going to engage in his self-serving political ploy designed only to make headlines and not actually restore transparency and accountability to this election, ” Elliott said.
Tester last week sent a proposal to Rehberg, asking him to commit to preventing third-party advertising, such as by super political action committees, in the Senate race in Montana.
Rehberg is challenging Tester for his seat in the 2012 election.
Rehberg’s proposal goes much deeper. The agreement would require both candidates to return all campaign contributions made by lobbyists and by people or organizations outside of Montana, as well as requiring the campaign of the candidate benefiting from third-party advertising to pay an amount equal to the cost of the advertisement to a charity of their opponent’s choice.
While Tester has much more in his campaign chest than Rehberg, the conservative superPACS have raised more than their liberal counterparts. This has led to speculation that Tester is trying to seek an advantage by eliminating the third-party advertising, while maintaining his advantage in his own fundraising.
In a press conference Wednesday, Tester said that, with much of the year left for campaigning and fundraising, his advantage over Rehberg — some $2 million more — could be made up by the Republican very quickly. The two candidates are close on how much they have in the bank, looking at the final figures, Tester said.
According to OpenSecrets.org, as of Dec. 31, Tester had raised more than $6.2 million and spent more than $2.4 million, with more than $3.8 million on hand.
Rehberg, on the same date, had raised more than $2.65 million and spent more than $855,000, leaving him more than $1.8 million on hand.
In his letter, Rehberg pointed out the fact that Tester is listed as the top recipient of lobbyist money in his campaign contributions. Tester’s $6.2 million raised includes $257,000 in lobbyist contributions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Rehberg ranked 10th out of the 435 U. S. representatives, with $74,450 of his donations listed by the Center for Responsive Politics listed as coming from lobbyists.
A story by The Associated Press raised questions about that, however, with an analysis showing his campaign received about $20,000 by lobbyists who did not identify themselves as such on the forms.
Before Rehberg sent his proposal to Tester, Tester’s campaign went back on the offensive, listing a third-party advertisement from the U. S. Chamber of Commerce attacking Tester — with claims Tester’s camp contested — that aired after Tester sent his proposal as another reason for Rehberg to sign Tester’s proposal.
In his letter, Rehberg directly questions Tester’s sincerity, pointing out that more than $3.7 million was spent in his support by out-of-Montana groups in his 2006 campaign to defeat Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., and that nearly $1 million has been spent by out-of-state groups this election attacking Rehberg.
Tester also cited the ads against Rehberg Wednesday as a reason to end third-party ads in the campaign, saying about a million had been spent by each side attacking him and Rehberg.
In his letter, Rehberg questioned whether the real issue Tester is looking at is that much of the liberal superPAC money is likely to go to the presidential election, rather than for Tester.
“Consequently, because your concern is so newfound, you will understand if Montanans are rightly skeptical about its authenticity …, ” Rehberg wrote. “It would be easy for Montanans to figure you simply calculated that since more liberal third party money is going to President Obama’s campaign there will be less going to yours, and that your nascent concern is really a self-serving political ploy.
“It would be hard to blame them for coming to that conclusion, given your track record of hypocrisy, ” Rehberg added.