Late in Montana's 2012 Senate race, the Montana Hunters and Anglers Leadership Fund dropped nearly $500,000 on a television ad attacking Republican Denny Rehberg and encouraging voters to support Libertarian Dan Cox, who the ad touted as "the real conservative." Problem was, the spot aired on Oct. 26, just one day after the Federal Election Commission's final pre-election reporting deadline, and Montana Hunters and Anglers had reported a mere $10,600 in the bank going into the last weeks of the campaign. In other words, the real financial backer of the ad remained a mystery even a month after the polls closed.
National media outlets suspected the money for the ad, posted below, came from the League of Conservation Voters, a heavy supporter of Democratic Sen. Jon Tester and a previous donor to Montana Hunters and Anglers. The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza postulated that the spot was meant to peel conservative votes away from Rehberg to aid Tester, although Montana Hunters and Anglers had spent more than $1.1 million opposing Rehberg with no mention of the incumbent. LCV flatly denied claims that it backed the ad when pressed by The Hill in late October.
Turns out LCV may not have been blowing smoke. The FEC uploaded the final glut of quarterly reports for the 2012 electoral cycle last night, providing answers to scores of eleventh-hour election mysteries including who footed the bill for the Cox ad. Between Oct. 24 and 26, Montana Hunters and Anglers received a total of $632,000 from the Super PAC America Votes Action Fund—just enough to pay for the ad and have a little left over.
America Votes Action Fund spent a paltry $84,000 on independent expenditures in 2012; much of that went to opposing a Republican House candidate in Colorado, while more than $40,000 went to supporting President Obama and a Democratic House candidate in Nevada—both of whom won their respective races. The Super PAC pulled in millions more, however, from left-leaning political action committees and millionaire Democratic donors such as Fred Eychaner. America Votes Action promptly turned those donations into contributions to a host of organizations including Nevada Senate Democrats, the liberal Common Sense Matters and the 501(c)(4) Greater Wisconsin Political Independent Expenditure Fund, which opposed two Republican Senators and Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin's 2012 recall election.
Of course, it's probably worth noting that America Votes Action Fund pulled in $441,000 in contributions from LCV between Oct. 22 and 25, plus an additional $600,000 in the days after the Cox ad hit the airwaves.