Sen. Jon Tester's race for reelection in Montana has reached something of a tipping point in terms of outside spending. Up until Friday, independent expenditures reported to the Federal Election Commission had strongly favored the incumbent over his Republican challenger, Rep. Denny Rehberg. But with another round of anti-Tester spending from the National Republican Senatorial Committee—$191,404.07 on ad buys and media production, filed late last week—the amount of disclosed money opposing Tester has hit $1.2 million.
The NRSC buy, along with an anti-Rehberg ad launched by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees AFL-CIO for $768,347.25, brings the total amount of federally reported spending in Montana's senate race to $5.3 million. More than $3.2 million of that has been spent opposing Rehberg, but don't feel too bad for him. Much of the money favoring a Rehberg victory has come from the secretive 501(c)(4) Crossroads GPS, which so far has masked millions in spending from the FEC by exclusively running "issue advocacy" ads criticizing but not directly opposing Tester. The only group on file with the FEC that's spent money supporting Rehberg outright this year is the Safari Club International PAC, which reported an expenditure of $2,100.63 for online advertising just last week.
A new third-party Tester opponent emerged in the last few weeks. America Is Not Stupid Inc., which according to the Center for Responsive Politics is listed as a conservative 501(c)(4) making independent expenditures in 2012, reported $10,415.94 for television ads directly opposing Tester in late August and early September. The group's primary sticking point is the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. But its rudimentary website also calls for smaller government, energy independence and tort reform.
A deeper look at the group's FEC filings reveals a financing connection to the Fenwick Group, a Florida-based insurance, healthcare and technology consulting firm headed by Bob Portrie and Jay Handline. The duo also runs Moran Insurance and Financial Solutions out of the same Ponte Vedra Beach office space. One of their subsidiaries is the K & M Insurance Agency, which works with a number of established health insurance companies including Blue Cross Blue Shield and Aflac.
In 2010, the New York Times linked the Fenwick Group to a string of ads paid for by the Coalition to Protect Seniors. The ads, which featured a talking baby with a husky voiceover, chastised President Barack Obama for his health insurance overhaul. The Times contacted Handline about the coalition, but Handline declined to give them any details about who was behind the effort. Now it's looking like the Fenwick Group is back at it, politically speaking, though Montana is so far the only state they've targeted.