By Dillon Tabish, 2-13-12
HELENA — U.S. Sen. Jon Tester on Monday rejected Congressman Denny Rehberg's campaign finance counteroffer that called for a race funded only by individual Montanans, arguing it was not enforceable.
And with the news, came an increasingly familiar war of words between the two sides.
The Tester campaign made it clear the Democrats did not believe they could trust Rehberg or his allies in such a deal. The Rehberg campaign responded by saying it was "disappointing" that Tester was unwilling to reject money from political action committees and other outside interests.
Tester started the conversation last week by calling on Rehberg to join him in barring third-party advertisements from the race for the Democratic incumbent's seat. Rehberg rejected the move targeting just the big-money outside groups, a fundraising apparatus where Republicans are generally viewed to hold an advantage.
Rehberg then responded with an unprecedented offer that called for a race funded only by individual Montanans — and a return of millions each campaign has raised so far from anyone one other than a state resident.
The Tester campaign said the proposal would have left the individual campaigns disarmed and at the mercy of third-party groups that have already been active in Montana, such as the super PAC known as Crossroads GPS connected to Republican strategist Karl Rove.
"If we were to hit the reset button on fundraising on both sides, it takes 30 seconds for Crossroads or any other group to come in here and nuke the state of Montana with ads. So Montana is put at the mercy of third-party groups because the candidates have no money to respond," said Tester campaign manager Preston Elliott.
The Rehberg offer, like the original Tester offer, included a penalty that required a candidate to donate to charity the cost of any advertising purchased by an ally. But the Tester campaign argued it would still leave the campaigns vulnerable to the third-party money less inclined to abide by a deal they never signed in the first place.
The Tester campaign argued that Rehberg presented his counteroffer safe in the knowledge that it could never be accepted in the first place.
"Jon offered Congressman Rehberg a simple, good-faith effort to keep secretly funded ads out of this race, and Congressman Rehberg rejected it because he's relying on these ads as we speak," said Elliott, referring to recent attack ads the U.S. Chamber of Commerce aired against Tester.
The Rehberg campaign responded with some shots of its own.
"Denny's plan, which banned third-party attack ads and said only Montana money should be spent on the Montana Senate race, was simple, straightforward and tough," said Rehberg campaign spokesman Erik Iverson. "By rejecting that proposal Senator Tester is admitting he doesn't want to fund his campaign solely with donations from Montanans, which is too bad."
[End of article]