The sad reality of the 2010 Montana elections is this: if the Dems can keep control of either chamber of the state legislature, it will be an astounding triumph.
Why? Put aside the obvious reason that Obama and the Washington Dems have offered very little in the way of persuasive rhetoric in defense of the big ticket items like health-care, stimulus and bailout. Put aside the enthusiasm gap. Put aside the frenzy of excitement among TEA-trash. In Montana, there is a far more disturbing obstacle: the millions of dollars in right-wing corporate money that has stealthily infiltrated the 2010 legislative races, unmatched by any such funds from the left.
Let’s look at some of the totals. First, there is the CI-105 group, run by GOP operative Chuck Denowh. This groups has spent $1.9 million, all raised from the National Realtors Association. These funds have been used to run TV ads for months, and the number of commercials that have aired is staggering, surpassing the amount of TV that is purchased by a major US Senate campaign. The commercials are ostensibly to promote the CI-105 constitutional amendment. But they are basically generic commercials for republican legislators. The ads falsely say that “Helena” is trying to raise taxes, which is basically a way to get people to vote for a Republican legislator since many Montana voters don’t know that Democrats, not Republicans, have delivered the largest tax cut in the history of the state.
To this whopping $1.9M, add a hundred or so thousand more from Chuck Denowh’s other two shady groups, the Better Goverment PAC and the Jobs for Montana PAC, also funded in whole or in part by corporate cash to the tune of hundreds of thousands, according to their Oct c-6 reports. Then you have an undetermined number of local groups that seem also to be controlled or influenced in some fashion by Denowh, such as the Flathead Business and Industry Council which has dropped a ton of money in select local races like that of Joe Brenneman, a commissioner from the Flathead who Denowh is trying to unseat to clear the way for abolishing all zoning in Flathead County.
Nauseous yet? We aren’t done. Throw in Erik Iversen’s Montana Business Leadership Council, which has made huge media buys around the state, for an undisclosed sum. And then add the Western Tradition Partnership. We don’t know how much they spent, but they said a few months back that they would be spending at least $500,000 this election cycle in Montana, most of it raised from out-of-state corporations, mostly energy companies who want environmental regulations defeated.
Grand total? An estimated $3-5 million. Why can’t I give you an exact tally? Because several of these groups have simply refused to disclose the amounts and sources of their funding. The Western TP and Iversen’s MBLC take advantage of a federal tax loophole to evade reporting, by claiming to be involved principally in “educational” activity, not “political” activity.
Tell that to Will Hammerquist, who had this mailer from WTP dropped on him today. WTP NEG (Fortunately, it appears that a moron, possibly John Sinrud who founded WTP and is now active in Flathead politics, designed this mailer. It is silly, over-the-top and largely illiterate, so it probably has no effect at all, especially this late in the game.)
Anyway, if you add it all up, Republican groups spent $3,000,000 this cycle conservatively and maybe as much as $5,000,000, the overwhelming majority of it being spent on activity designed to influence legislative races. It is virtually all corporate money, the majority of which comes from out of state. At least a million of it, maybe more, is mystery money, about which we will never be able to learn the amounts, the sources, or even the races on which the money was expended. Unfortunately, the Democrats in Montana don’t have access to this type of soft corporate money.
True, there are unions and wealthy individual donors, and environmental advocacy groups. But but none can, or will, write a two million dollar check in the blink of an eye. Not even close. There is no corporate interest that wholly owns the Democratic party in the way that the GOP is owned by entire corporate sectors. That’s a good thing. But it makes this season an uphill climb.