HELENA – Republican U.S. Senate candidate Matt Rosendale appears to have illegally coordinated his campaign with National Rifle Association, Democratic groups alleged this week, citing a recorded statement by the candidate.
The audio-recording, obtained by the news website The Daily Beast, has Rosendale saying that he spoke earlier this year with an NRA official, who told him “we’re going to be in this race.”
It’s illegal for independent groups to coordinate their campaign activity with candidates in the race that they’re attempting to influence. The NRA’s political arm reported spending $404,000 last week on an ad attacking Rosendale’s main opponent in the race, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester.
Both Rosendale and the NRA told MTN News this week that the charges are false, and that no such coordination occurred.
“This is amusing desperation on Jon Tester’s part and it’s completely baseless,” Rosendale campaign spokesman Shane Scanlon said in a statement. “The only thing this audio proves is that Matt sought the endorsement of the NRA – and we’re proud to have it.”
Jennifer Baker, director of public affairs for NRA-Institute for Legislative Action, said it never discussed anything with Rosendale “beyond our membership.”
Tester’s campaign spokesman, Chris Meagher, said the audio-recording “raises serious concerns about potential illegal coordination between Matt Rosendale and an outside, dark-money group coming into Montana to support him.”
On Friday, The Hill, a Washington, D.C., publication reporting on Congress and politics, said that a campaign-watchdog group plans to file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, asking it to investigate possible illegal coordination between Rosendale and the NRA.
Rosendale, Tester and Libertarian Rick Breckenridge are running in Montana’s marquee U.S. Senate race, where Tester is seeking a third consecutive term.
Tester is considered one of the more vulnerable Democrats this cycle, since President Trump won the state in 2016 by 20 percentage points.
As of this week, nearly $16 million has been spent by outside groups on ads, mailers and other material in Montana’s U.S. the race. About $10 million of that total has been spent on behalf of Rosendale.
In the recording obtained by the Daily Beast, Rosendale is talking to an unnamed man, who asks Rosendale if any “outside groups are spending on your behalf.”
Rosendale then mentions several groups, including the Club for Growth, and says he “fully expects” that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the NRA will “come in” to the race on his behalf, by late summer.
Rosendale also says that Chris Cox, a political strategist for NRA-ILA, told him that “`we’re going to be in this race.’”
Scanlon said Rosendale has never discussed anything with the NRA besides its membership or its endorsement process.
“If Jon Tester is so desperate to save his seat, perhaps he should focus more on fighting for Montana and defending our Second Amendment rights rather than spreading lies about our campaign,” he said.
The NRA ad that began airing in Montana last week alleged that Tester says he supports gun rights but doesn’t vote that way in Washington, D.C. It cites his support for U.S. Supreme Court justices nominated by then-President Barack Obama, alleging those justices don’t support gun ownership rights.