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August 09, 2012

Montana has seen millions in outside money this election cycle. Third parties are snatching up ad time. Voters are getting tired of out-of-state interests trying to influence their politics.

But outside spending is growing ever more nebulous. Disclaimers at the end of several recent ads in Montana's Senate race between Sen. Jon Tester and Rep. Denny Rehberg would have you believe that their messages and the money behind them originated in-state. Don't be fooled. It's still not entirely Montana cash.

The Montana Republican Party began airing an ad June 20 touting Rehberg as an "independent thinker" who "refuses to toe the party line" in the den of Beltway partisanship. The spot, along with an anti-Tester radio ad, cost $310,398. The state GOP dropped an additional $183,277 on an ad buy June 25 for a televised Tester attack.

The hitch? FEC filings show the party had only $40,672 as of May 31. The hefty ad buys were bankrolled by a string of contributions from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, totaling $590,000. Those contributions were received between June 20 and June 25.

A similar story emerged around the Montana Hunters and Anglers Leadership Fund last month. The Lewistown-based nonprofit reported $5,804 cash on hand as of June 30. Ten days later, they launched a televised attack on Rehberg over his support for a bill giving Homeland Security authority over all federal land within 100 miles of an international border. The end of the ad states it was "paid for by Montana Hunters and Anglers Leadership Fund."

The production cost and ad buy totaled $363,121. Turns out the League of Conservation Voters—a D.C.-based group spending heavily in favor of Tester this year—picked up the tab with a July 10 contribution of $410,000 to Montana Hunters and Anglers.

Those two groups were much more transparent than the Montana GOP. The day the ad aired, they announced an official partnership aimed at defeating Rehberg. The announcement stopped short of giving Montana Hunters and Anglers financial credit for the television spot, saying instead that the ad was "sponsored by" the group.

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