Republican State Leadership Committee web page
(HELENA) A group financed mostly by corporate money is running attack ads against Montana Supreme Court candidate Dirk Sandefur – and it won’t be the last time outside money is spent on this pivotal race.
The ads, financed by the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) Judicial Fairness Initiative, accuse Sandefur, a district judge, of taking it easy on child rapists and pornographers.
The Washington, D.C.-based organization is routing its money to a local group, the StopSetUmFreeSandefur.com Committee, which produced the ads that have been running on radio and TV for about two weeks.
Sandefur said he knew the attacks would come, and called it “laughable” to suggest he is weak on crime.
“There will be a substantial amount of out-of-state, corporate dark money that comes into Montana to support my opponent and attack my record and distort it,” he told MTN News in a recent interview. “Hopefully Montanans will see through that, and look at the record, and talk to people that know.”
Sandefur, of Great Falls, is running against Great Falls attorney Kristen Juras for an open seat on Montana’s seven-member court.
The race could shift the political makeup of the court, by adding Juras, a conservative-leaning member.
Republicans and many business groups have lined up behind Juras, while prominent Democrats and many in Montana’s legal community are supporting Sandefur, who’s also a former police officer and prosecutor.
Juras told MTN News that independent expenditures, like those by the RSLC, are beyond the control of the candidates and that she has nothing to do with them.
“I can win this race without independent expenditures,” she said. “I encourage voters to get on each of our websites and look at our qualifications and put those ads in the context of what we’re telling voters about ourselves.”
Groups expected to opposed Juras, such as the Montana Trial Lawyers Association and its affiliates, have yet to report any big ad buys in the race.
The anti-Sandefur ads say he refused to give prison time, or gave light sentences, to men guilty of possessing child pornography and sexually assaulting children in Great Falls.
Cascade County Attorney John Parker told MTN News that the sentences cited in the ad were the result of plea deals arranged by his office and that Sandefur merely approved them.
“The bottom line is, sometimes the evidence falls apart on a case, and that doesn’t reflect poorly on the judge or the prosecution; it’s just reality,” Parker said. “Judge Sandefur has an extremely strong track record on criminal justice.”
The RSLC Judicial Fairness Initiative gave $93,000 last month to StopSetUmFreeSandefur.com.
Jake Eaton, a Billings political consultant who’s the treasurer of the latter group, told MTN News that the national group likely would be sending more money its way this month.
The Judicial Fairness Initiative gets all of its money from its parent group, the RSLC, which raises millions of dollars for many of the nation’s top corporations, such as ExxonMobil, Wal-Mart, Delta Airlines and FedEx.
The RLSC raised $11.6 million the first six months of this year and gave $2.6 million of that money to the Judicial Fairness Initiative.
In the past half-dozen years, the group has been instrumental in helping Republicans take over state legislatures around the country and electing other state Republican officeholders and conservative state judges.
Ellie Hockenbury, a spokeswoman for the RSLC, said the group had been involved in state Supreme Court races this year in West Virginia, Arkansas, and Wisconsin.
She declined to say what it will do during the rest of the Montana race, because “we don’t want to give away our playbook on potential upcoming plans.”
Reporter: Mike Dennison