Pro Publica reports on the Senate election in Montana, where 64 outside groups spent $21 million and party committees spent another $8.9 million. Between June and November, more TV spots ran in this Senate race than any other. One outside group, Montana Hunters and Anglers, backed Libertarian Senate candidate Dan Cox, apparently with the intent of siphoning votes from Republican Denny Rehberg. The ploy worked: Cox's vote exceeded Tester's margin.
Liberal groups set up field offices, knocked on doors, featured "Montana" in their names or put horses in their TV ads. Many of them, including Montana Hunters and Anglers, were tied to a consultancy firm where a good friend of Jim Messina, President Barack Obama's campaign manager, is a partner.
Montana Republicans blamed Montana Hunters and Anglers, made up of a super PAC and a sister dark money nonprofit, for tipping the race. Even though super PACs have to report their donors, the Montana Hunters and Anglers super PAC functioned almost like a dark money group. Records show its major donors included an environmentalist group that didn't report its donors and two super PACs that in turn raised the bulk of their money from the environmentalist group, other dark money groups and unions.
Starting in July 2011, three new liberal dark money groups ran ads. Patriot Majority USAcriticized Republicans for allegedly planning to cut Medicare and help to seniors. ThePartnership to Protect Medicare praised Tester for opposing Medicare cuts.
And in October, weeks after forming, the dark money side of Montana Hunters and Anglers, Montana Hunters and Anglers Action!, launched its first TV ad, starring Land Tawney, the group's gap-toothed and camouflage-sporting president, who also served on the Sportsmen's Advisory Panel for Tester. At the time, the super PAC side of the group was basically dormant.
Many liberal groups active in Montana, including Montana Hunters and Anglers, were connected through Hilltop Public Solutions, a Beltway consulting firm.
Barrett Kaiser, a former aide to Montana's other Democratic senator, Max Baucus, is a partner at Hilltop and runs its office in Billings. The Hilltop website notes that Kaiser helped with Tester's upset Senate win in 2006. Kaiser is also a good friend of Messina, the manager of Obama's 2012 campaign, who also once worked for Baucus.
Kaiser was on the board of the Montana Hunters and Anglers dark money group. Another Hilltop employee in Billings served as the treasurer for the Montana Hunters and Anglers super PAC.
Hilltop partners in Washington also helped run two other dark money groups that spent money on the Montana race: the Citizens for Strength and Security Fund and thePartnership to Protect Medicare.
The League of Conservation Voters and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana paid management fees to Hilltop.From the Montana Hunters and Anglers Leadership Fund (super PAC):
From Montana Hunters and Anglers Action (501(c)(4)):