Montana's Senate race is mired in half-truths. The past few weeks have seen Sen. Jon Tester and Rep. Denny Rehberg trading barbs over who supports cancer prevention more. The controversy is dominating political ads, spurring press releases and prompting third-party responses from various organizations. But unlike campaigning, the underlying issues are rarely black-and-white.
Take the Montana Republican Party ad from late June, which touted Rehberg as a politician who "refuses to toe the party line." The spot praised him for going against the partisan grain in 2008, by voting against President Bush's Troubled Asset Relief Program, aka the "Wall Street bailout."
It wasn't the first time TARP made an appearance this election season. One of Rehberg's earliest campaign ads featured folks claiming Tester "used our tax dollars to give bonuses to Wall Street executives." Did Tester vote for TARP? No. Did he expect American International Group would pay out millions in bonuses while receiving billions in taxpayer-backed TARP funds? Surely not.
Tester and Rehberg were united in their public disgust over AIG's actions back in the spring of 2009, along with Sen. Max Baucus. Montana's congressional delegation never minced words on the subject—at least, not until Tester and Rehberg were squaring off for a Senate seat.
Shortly after the controversy broke, Congress announced an attempt to recoup some of those misdirected TARP funds in the form of a 90 percent tax on AIG's bonuses. Rehberg voted in favor of that claw-back. Yet he eventually backpedaled on his vote to regulate executive compensation at AIG, saying the claw-back was unconstitutional and un-American. He subsequently voted against a proposed cap on executive compensation at companies receiving federal money.
Taken out of context, any one of these actions by Tester or Rehberg could be used as ammunition in this tense run-up to the November election.
So, does it come as a shock to anyone that Rehberg voted against Title X funding destined for clinics that offer family planning services? Or that he recently re-ignited the GOP's war against the Affordable Care Act rule that employer-provided health insurance cover contraception? Despite what the state GOP's June ad would have us believe, the "R" behind Rehberg's name doesn't come with an asterisk. And unfortunately, campaigns seldom take nuances into account.