Burns v. Tester 

Funny money talks in Butte

Jon Tester’s campaign filed a complaint with federal elections officials Tuesday alleging that Friends of Conrad Burns, the Butte-based Resodyn Corporation and the Montana Standard, Butte’s daily newspaper, violated federal elections law at the Sept. 23 debate in Butte.

The complaint stems from Resodyn’s sponsorship of the debate, which amounted to $200. According to Gerry O’Brien, editor of the the Standard, which organized the debate, Resodyn was promised 50 reserved seats at Butte’s 1,200-seat Mother Lode Theater. According to published reports, those seats were filled with Conrad Burns supporters wearing Burns stickers. Federal elections law allows corporations to sponsor debates, but “staging organizations” cannot “structure the debates to promote or advance one candidate over another.”

Tester’s camp is alleging that by reserving seats for Burns supporters, Resodyn violated that law.

It was widely reported—first in Montana blogs and later by state newspapers—that several Resodyn corporate officials, including the company’s director and its president, donated thousands of dollars to Burns and the Montana Republican Party in the last year.

But Resodyn wasn’t the only sponsor with financial connections to the Burns campaign. James Harton is the president of Rhodia Inc.’s North American unit, the third sponsor of the Sept. 23 debate. According to Federal Election Commission records, Harton donated $1,000 last August to the American Chemistry Council political action committee, a PAC that gave $4,000 to Friends of Conrad Burns earlier this year. Rhodia, the French chemical firm that was slapped with an $18 million fine in 2004 for illegally storing hazardous elemental phosphorus at its Silver Bow County plant, operated—until February—its own PAC: Rhodia Inc. Political Action Committee. According to FEC records, Rhodia PAC made a $5,000 contribution to the American Chemistry Council PAC.

O’Brien told the Independent he knew of Resodyn’s political contributions to Burns prior to the debate, but said it wasn’t him who sought out the two companies as co-sponsors, and that he doesn’t know who did.

“The people who did that probably were not aware that Resodyn was receiving federal funds or that the company’s CEO was a supporter of Burns,” O’Brien said.

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