Audio footage published by The Daily Beast on Thursday purports that Montana’s Republican Senate Candidate, state auditor Matt Rosendale allegedly discussed campaign expenditures against the state’s Democratic incumbent, Sen. John Tester, with Chris Cox, a strategist for The National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), Alternet reports.
Lachlan Markay, who writes the column PAY DIRT for The Daily Beast reports that government watchdog groups are questioning whether there was illicit between the Republican candidate and an “independent political group supporting his campaign.”
Here’s one quote from the audio:
“I fully expect the NRA is going to come in … in August sometime,” Rosendale said.
Markay notes Rosendale was responding to a question about independent political spending in the race.
And Rosendale continues:
“The Supreme Court confirmations are big. That’s what sent the NRA over the line. Because in ’12, with [Republican Senate nominee Denny Rehhberg] they stayed out, they stayed out of Montana. But Chris Cox told me, he’s like ‘We’re going to be in this race.'”
Markay adds that Rosendale’s timing was a little bit wrong, but that the NRA did just what Cox said it was going to do. By spending more than $400,000 in attack ads that criticized Tester’s votes on Supreme Court nominations. Which is the issue that Rosendale was touching on.
Here’s why this could be spell trouble, Markay writes:
“Rosendale’s remarks are potentially problematic as the NRA-ILA (c)(4) ‘dark money’ group, is legally barred from coordinating its ad buys with a federal campaign.”
Then he cites non-profit tax law attorney Holly Schadler, who explains that illegal coordination may happen “if the organization has substantial discussions with the campaign about an expenditure, or if the organization informs the campaign about a planned communication related to the campaign and the campaign signals its agreement with the suggestion to make that communication.”
Alternet reports that the Supreme Court’s landmark 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission allows independent political groups the right to spend unlimited amounts of money on campaigns, but even this decision mandates that these groups must “truly” be independent. In other words, not coordinating with candidates.
According to Brendan Fischer, director of the Federal Election Commission reform for The Campaign Legal Center, Rosendale’s comments, coupled with the ad campaign he referred to may be enough to prove the “three-pronged” legal test that may establish impermissible coordination. Those three prongs are payment, content, and conduct.
The payment prong fits the bill because someone other than Rosendale paid for the ads, Fischer noted, and the content prong does too because the ads specifically advocate against Tester. Further, he added that “the conduct prong can be satisfied by Rosendale’s assenting to the request or suggestion of the entity paying for the ad.” In other words, the NRA.
Markay adds that any investigation into possible wrongdoing will probably hinge on the question as to whether or not Rosendale encouraged or signed off on Cox’s pledge to get involved in the campaign as the audio footage portends. In that clip, the Republican hopeful didn’t tell the interviewer what his response to Cox was. Which means he could say no such assent was offered.
Montana is a state that’s a peculiar mixed-bag politically. It went in heavily for President Donald Trump by some 20 points when he was elected but often elects Democrats to state office, as it did when it elected its’ governor, Steve Bullock.
As it stands, Tester is well ahead of Rosenberg. Let’s hope that remains true.
Here’s the clip of Rosendale’s conversation.