Sen. Jon Tester's response this week to the U.S. Supreme Court rollback of Montana's Corrupt Practices Act was predictable. He's said the words a dozen times before regarding unlimited, secretive outside spending in campaigns: It should be people and their ideas, "not corporations and their money," that influence politics.
Meanwhile, the League of Conservation Voters last week disclosed another $7,800 in independent expenditures supporting Tester. The environmental group has now spent $261,227.74 this cycle working to get Tester re-elected. There's no telling where that money is coming from. LCV is a 501(c)(4) and, unlike a PAC or Super PAC, isn't required to disclose any of its donors to the Federal Elections Commission. The nonprofit can also spend unlimited amounts of cash advocating for the defeat of a candidate, as long as it doesn't take contributions from unions or corporations. To put it another way, LCV is in some ways the type of group Tester frequently decries.
What's LCV spending a quarter of a million dollars on?
People. LCV spokesman Aaron Browning says the organization is staffing offices in Billings and Missoula with 23 full-time employees. Their primary job is to canvass door-to-door for the senate incumbent, trying to convince at least 1,500 drop-off Democratsfolks who voted in 2008 but not in 2010to get out and vote for Tester.
"Montanans talking to Montanans about issues that are critically important, like our access to public lands for hunting and fishing and camping, is really resonating with people," Browning says. "We have had a long presence in Montana. That's the perspective we're coming from."
LCV began ramping up its efforts and hiring in mid-May. The jobs aren't permanent; most of the contracts only last through mid-November, Browning says. But Browning stresses that each of these employees is invested in the cause; Browning got his own start years ago working with LCV's state affiliate, Montana Conservation Voters. And with 14,000 members in the state, Browning argues that the outside moneyin LCV's case, anywayisn't all that outside.
"All of us are really concerned about this election," he says. "We have a lot on the line."