In Montana, Dark Money Helped Democrats Hold a Key Senate Seat

We’ve had many discussions about Montana Senators on this blog… thought this article from High Country News was worthy of posting. Here is the link and below are excerpts.

Such spending played a greater role in the Montana Senate race than almost any other. With control of the U.S. Senate potentially at stake, candidates, parties and independent groups spent more than $51 million on this contest, all to win over fewer than 500,000 voters. That’s twice as much as was spent when Tester was elected in 2006.

Almost one quarter of that was dark money, donated secretly to nonprofits.

“It just seems so out of place here,” said Democrat Brian Schweitzer, the governor of Montana who leaves office at the end of this year. “About one hundred dollars spent for every person who cast a vote. Pretty spectacular, huh? And most of it, we don’t have any idea where it came from. Day after the election, they closed up shop and disappeared into the dark.”

Political insiders say the Montana Senate race provided a particularly telling glimpse at how campaigns are run in the no-holds-barred climate created by the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, giving a real-world counterpoint to the court’s assertion that voters could learn all they needed to know about campaign funding from disclosure.


Montana Republicans blamed Montana Hunters and Anglers, made up of a super PAC and a sister dark money nonprofit, for tipping the race. Even though super PACs have to report their donors, the Montana Hunters and Anglers super PAC functioned almost like a dark money group. Records show its major donors included an environmentalist group that didn’t report its donors and two super PACs that in turn raised the bulk of their money from the environmentalist group, other dark money groups and unions.

“Part of what’s frustrating to me is I look at Montana Hunters and Anglers and say, ‘That is not fair,'” said Bowen Greenwood, executive director for the Montana Republican Party. “I am a hunter. I know plenty of hunters. And Montana hunters don’t have their positions. It would be fairer if it was called Montana Environmental Activists. That would change the effect of their ads.”

Cox and Tester deny the group’s efforts swung the race. No one from Montana Hunters and Anglers returned calls for comment.

Note from Sharon: I know that we are a nation of laws, and that law is interpreted by courts, and the Supreme Court, is, well, Supreme, but something about this creeps me out. I wonder what environmental group was doing the funding.

7 thoughts on “In Montana, Dark Money Helped Democrats Hold a Key Senate Seat”

  1. Sharon,

    Being in Montana, knowing some of the players in this “Dark Money” “sportsmen’s” group and having been contacted directly by the reporter who did the investigation for some background info, I certainly appreciate that you have highlighted the article. And I agree with you that something about this should creep us out.

    Additional information about the players behind “Montana Hunters and Anglers Action” is below. The source for this first batch of info is this article:

    “Land Tawney of Missoula, president of the newly formed group…..Tawney, a senior manager for the National Wildlife Federation , wouldn’t reveal the cost of the buy, but sources told the Lee Newspapers State Bureau that it’s between $200,000 and $250,000….In addition to Tawney, its officers include Democratic state Sen. Kendall Van Dyk of Billings; Barrett Kaiser, a Billings communications consultant and former aide to U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.; and George Cooper, a senior vice president for a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm and former news producer for CNN.”

    I myself 100% oppose the use of secret, anonymous dark money to influence our democratic elections no matter who’s spending it and what they are spending it on. One would think that the vast majority of Montanans and Americans feel the same way. Again, this is about much more than D’s vs R’s….this is about the future of democracy.
    Last week the National Wildlife Federation, Montana Hunters and Anglers engaged in a new round of censorship, removal of comments and banning on their social media sites (I have screen shots of the pages if anyone wants proof) in an attempt prevent the general public from knowing about their secret, anonymous, dark money ways.

    I believe much of this censorship and removal of substantive comments is coming from Land Tawney of NWF/Montana Hunters and Anglers. I’ve also been censored and banned by a social media site called “Sportsmen for Montana” and “Hellgate Hunters and Angler’s Bully Pulpit Blog” and I believe that censorship and banning was done by Tawney and a person named Ben Lamb. Both Tawney and Lamb serve on Senator Tester’s Sportsmen’s Caucus advisory group (Source: and have been big supporters of Senator Tester for the past 6 years.

    And while I’m bringing up censorship and banning on social media sites for attempting to have substantive discussions about things like Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, or the provision in Tester’s “Sportsmen’s” bill, which would have prevented the EPA from ever studying or regulating the use of lead in ammo and fishing tackle, I should point out that the folks at Montana Wilderness Association have also censored and removed my comments and banned me from their site for trying to discuss issues.

    As anyone can clearly see from the links below, if you simply highlight this “Dark Money” article, Montana Hunters and Anglers will censor and remove your comments and forever ban you from commenting again. Why do you think that is? SOURCE:

    However, if you want to go onto the Montana Hunters and Anglers social media sites and use this type of foul language highlighted below, Montana Hunters and Anglers will do absolutely nothing to censor and remove this type of language or ban a future commenter:

    “Burns was a worthless f#@k whose first campaign was financed corruptly, he wh*#ed himself….he was a s*&t-kickin’ inbred racist scum.” Or this: “The problem is we keep a lying jac#^ss like Tester…I can hear those lying piece of crap bubble head bleach blondes now!!” Or this: “Tester should be rotting in a jail somewhere.” SOURCE:

    Ironically, I was once a member of Hellgate Hunters and Anglers and while Land Tawney and Montana Hunters and Anglers censors and bans me from their social media site, they also sent me a snail mail invitation to become a member of MT Hunters and Anglers on Saturday. So, suffice to say this secret, Dark Money group is frantically trying to scramble and find “members” so that some of the heat is taken away from their Dark Money ways.

    Yep, that’s how some of these self-professed, well-funded “Sportsmen” groups roll. Like I said, this really isn’t anything personal as much as it is about the future of democracy in America. Bottom Line: Secret, Dark Money has no place in American democracy. Thanks.

  2. Matthew, I wonder whether there should be a pledge for not for profits that they would never give money secretly to political campaigns.
    Something like a “We stand behind our values and the democratic process” pledge.

    People could be encouraged, then, not to donate to or belong to such organizations.

    Another possibility would be for Montana citizens to use the “direct action” approach to the boards of such organizations (similar to the approach I described for Idaho Roadless below but with “political campaigns” substituted for “litigation”) . But it’s hard to call people on their behavior when it’s secret.

    I think it would be interesting for Montanans to hear from the board members about why they chose to invest in a political campaign in their state over other possible investments.

    From this post:

    Given that some organizations made the decision to invest in a court appeal, I thought perhaps if I lived in Idaho and was involved with the rule development, I would try this. I would get a group together to email or write a letter to each member of the Board of Directors, include the above photo, and tell them that I was willing to meet with them anytime anyplace to talk to them about why they were choosing to appeal this decision. What did they think about the Idaho Rule, and why did they think it was worth the investment to appeal? Then folks who had worked on it and knew about it (and the 2001, and the differences) could engage them in a meaningful discussion.

    If they did not answer the emails or letters to talk, then that would be another story. From my board memberships, I take the role of the board in providing direction very seriously. It seems to me that communicating directly (people who know about the project or rule) with board members (people who are deciding whether to invest in litigation) would be a useful and educational exercise. We often talk about accountability of federal agencies (not that they are paragons 😉 ), but shouldn’t we all be accountable to the people affected (that is, all taxpayers, in this case, as well as Idahoans) for our actions?

    This direct action is probably not OK for federal employees to do, but I would think that concerned citizens (involved in collaborative groups?) certainly could do so. The results of these discussions could be reported back through this blog or in the press.

    • Sharon, I’m not sure why we’d limit your pledge to non-profits. What about corporations? Or Unions? Or anyone else? I don’t follow campaign financing all that carefully, but I think the solutions to the problem of secret, Dark Money in elections are:

      • Overturn Citizens United or amend the US Constitution to that effect

      • Hold publicly financed elections

      Clearly, when you have $51 million dumped Montana for JUST our US Senate race you have a huge problem with too much money in elections. Heck, only about 500,000 people voted in Montana. Nationally, they figure total spending on elections was over $6 billion, with $2.6 billion just in the presidential race. Disgusting really….

      • Good question, Matthew. I am probably not as knowledgeable about this issue as I should be.

        I said it originally because I thought that people choose to contribute to non-profits, not so much corporations and unions. Also non-profits get tax breaks (of course you could argue that corporations do too) and I thought they weren’t actually allowed to do partisan stuff (or at least that is some of the discussion in the church biz).

        But to be clear, I think that any outfit who contributes to political campaigns should be open about to whom they are contributing and why, and let the people judge their rectitude.

  3. Yep, this is exactly the problem, and as Matthew says, it goes for D and R. Big money is the most pernicious problem in politics today, whether it’s spent by wealthy industrialists or wealthy conservationists. When money equals speech, the richest few can drown everyone else out in a sea of spending.


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