BILLINGS, Mont. — Republicans say in a television ad that Montana U.S. Sen. Jon Tester has taken more money from lobbyists than any other member of Congress this election cycle as he seeks to fend off a challenge from Republican State Auditor Matt Rosendale.
Tester, a third-generation farmer and former president of the Montana Senate, has a reputation as a populist. He frequently criticizes the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling that allowed more money to flow into political campaigns. He was first elected in 2006 over former Republican U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, whose defeat was attributed in part to a corruption scandal involving Burns' ties to "super-lobbyist" Jack Abramoff.
Republicans contend that over his two terms, Tester became enmeshed in the same corrupt Washington establishment that he promised as a candidate to fight. Asked about the allegation that he's the top recipient of lobbyist cash, Tester initially responded, "That's bull."
A look at the claim:
NATIONAL REPUBLICAN SENATORIAL COMMITTEE: "Jon Tester was No. 1 in Cash from Lobbyists in 2018," in an advertisement released September 6.
THE FACTS: The Republican group got it right — Tester was the top recipient in Congress of money from lobbyists for a time, according to campaign contribution data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Similar claims against Tester have been made by others, including President Donald Trump at a Thursday campaign rally for Rosendale. Trump said Tester has "taken more cash from lobbyists than almost anyone in the entire Senate."
Rosendale tweeted last month that Tester was receiving "the most cash" from lobbyists and had "gone Washington."
When Rosendale posted his tweet on Aug. 24, representatives of the lobbying industry had contributed $394,478 to Tester's campaign during the 2018 election cycle, according to the center's website, opensecrets.org.
That made him tops among members of Congress receiving lobbying industry contributions, just ahead of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat who had $381,033.
The money includes donations from people who work in government relations firms or as government relation consultants, political committees acting on behalf of lobbying companies and state-level lobbyists.
Tester ranked No. 2 among members of the House and Senate receiving contributions from a second group, federally-registered lobbyists and their families. That group gave a combined $497,213 to the Democrat's re-election campaign.
When confronted with the Republican's claims by an Associated Press reporter, Tester initially sought to turn the discussion to Rosendale's use of a loophole in campaign rules to skirt limits on contributions from individuals.
The Democrat went on to say it was "a question of how you measure it."
"The reason you know that fact, if in fact it is true, which I very much doubt, is that all my money's transparent," Tester said. "The ads he (Rosendale) is putting up, we don't know who's paying for them. That's why we need campaign finance reform, by the way, which he opposes."
Tester campaign spokesman Chris Meagher added that the cash from lobbyists "pales in comparison to the $3.24 million Jon has received from Montanans this cycle."
For the 2012 cycle, Tester was also the No. 1 recipient of lobbyists' money, taking in $502,031, ahead of former House Speaker John Boehner, who was second with $423,750, according to the center.
Since Rosendale posted his tweet, the Center for Responsive Politics updated its numbers and Brown has overtaken Tester to move into first place with $430,226 from lobbyists. Tester is second with $401,478.
Another update to the tallies will be posted in coming weeks, said Douglas Weber, a senior researcher for the group.