Politics 

Dark money returns

So-called "dark money" groups are once again resurfacing to sway Montana voters. The retirement of Sen. Max Baucus from Congress left the field open for the 2014 election, and both parties are vying on a national level to secure a Senate majority. It's an ideal climate for political nonprofits on either side of the aisle wielding millions in contributions from undisclosed donors.

One such nonprofit, the progressive Americans United for Change, released its "Tea Party Scorecard" in January, a veiled swing at 47 U.S. House Republicans who are up for reelection in 2014. The project rated how often those members voted alongside the Tea Party, and Montana's Rep. Steve Daines came away with a score of 88 percent.

click to enlarge Daines.jpg

"There has been no daylight between Rep. Daines and the Tea Party when it comes to the obsession with repealing, delaying or defunding the Affordable Care Act," AUFC stated, adding that Daines' campaign recently won the support of the national Tea Party Express.

The group based much of its scorecard on a string of failed Republican attempts during October's shutdown to extend piecemeal funding to certain government agencies. Daines ultimately split from the Tea Party when he voted to reopen the government without defunding the ACA.

AUFC's emphasis on Republicans facing reelection seems largely campaign-centric, and it wouldn't be the first time the group has targeted a Republican Senate candidate in Montana. AUFC ran ads opposing 2012 Senate candidate Denny Rehberg as early as summer 2011.

AUFC does exercise more transparency than other dark money groups, acknowledging that a bulk of its funding comes from labor unions and disclosing the amount it spends on "discussion of the position of public officials who are also candidates for public office" on annual tax filings. But as an "issue advocacy" nonprofit, AUFC—just like its right-leaning nonprofit counterparts—isn't required to divulge the costs or funding sources of politically charged ads.

AUFC isn't the only nonprofit with a Montana track record that's returning this year. Americans for Prosperity spent millions in 2012 attacking Democratic Senate candidates nationwide, including Sen. Jon Tester. AFP doesn't disclose its donors and, according to tax filings going back to 2009, hasn't acknowledged any campaign activity. The nonprofit launched a television ad in January thanking Daines for his role in opposing the ACA.

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