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Non-profit files FEC complaint against Super PAC’s spending on anti-Sheehy ads

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Non-profit files FEC complaint against Super PAC’s spending on anti-Sheehy ads

Feb 14, 2024 | 6:48 pm ET
By Nicole Girten
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Non-profit files FEC complaint against Super PAC’s spending on anti-Sheehy ads
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Montana 2024 Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tim Sheehy. (Courtesy Tim Sheehy campaign)

A Washington D.C.-based non-profit is asking the Federal Election Commission to investigate spending reports from a super PAC known for attack ads against Republican Senate primary candidate Tim Sheehy.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee-backed Sheehy is slated to compete against Montana’s eastern district Rep. Matt Rosendale for the party’s nomination this summer, and whoever wins will face incumbent Democrat Jon Tester for the general election in the fall. Both parties are eyeing the Montana race as key to determining the majority in the U.S. Senate.

Campaign Legal Center, a non-partisan organization founded by former Republican FEC Commissioner Trevor Potter, alleges in a complaint filed Wednesday the Last Best Place PAC failed to file required spending reports, which they said left out important information for voters and violated the Federal Election Campaign Act. But an organization aligned with the PAC said it followed all FEC guidelines and doesn’t anticipate an investigation.

The Last Best Place PAC has given and received a large percentage of the $2 million it has raised to Democrat-connected organizations like Waterfront Strategies and Majority Forward. The bank the PAC uses is one typically used by Democratic National Committee, as reported by Politico as further evidence of the PAC’s connection to Democrats.

PAC Treasurer Dave Lewis, listed in the complaint, is a former Republican legislator who served in both state chambers for more than a decade. Lewis did not respond to an email sent to the PAC or to two phone calls.

A spokesperson for the Senate Majority PAC, which is organizing for a Democratic majority in the Senate, said the Last Best Place PAC is following FEC requirements.

“Montanans have every right to learn the truth about … Sheehy walking away from a government loan, profiting off of his ties to China, and doing business in the Caymans,” said Sarah Guggenheimer in a statement Wednesday. “Last Best Place PAC follows clear FEC rules when determining when to file our reports, and we are confident no action will be taken on this complaint.”

The Last Best Place PAC has put out attack ads against Sheehy, including one saying he “made millions off government contracts” but didn’t pay back a $770,000 government loan. Sheehy founded Bridger Aerospace, which “provides aerial firefighting services to federal and state government agencies, including the United States Forest Service,” according to the business website.

Sheehy told Missoula radio station KGVO in September the loan was a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan distributed as part of the federal COVID-19 response and was forgiven.

In the complaint, the Campaign Legal Center alleges the PAC “treated its media disbursements as operating expenditures,” saying the ad was an “independent expenditure” — meaning the ad openly advocated the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate and wasn’t made in coordination with the campaign.

Ad copy:

They got a home loan and paid it back. She got a car loan and paid it back. But this multimillionaire got an over $770,000 government loan and never paid it back. But Tim Sheehy doesn’t think he should be held accountable. She, he got rich off government contracts, walked away from his loan and now he and his campaign can spend millions trying to buy our senate seat. Shady Sheehy. He’s just out for himself. Last best place back is responsible for the content [in this ad].

But advocacy is narrowly defined as using certain words, outlined by the FEC as using campaign slogans and call-to-action verbs like “defeat” with a photo of a candidate or around an issue related to a candidate.

The ad in question used none of the “magic words,” but the FEC has an “only reasonable interpretation” test — meaning when taken as a whole the ad “can only be interpreted by a ‘reasonable person’ as advocating the election or defeat of one or more clearly identified candidate(s).”

The center, which believes the ad was advocating under the reasonable interpretation test, said the ad expense should have been disclosed on a specific “48-hour” pre-election report, but said the organization hasn’t filed those reports. The center said this failure would mark a violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act.

“Indeed, timely access to that information would likely have helped voters evaluate the motivation behind LBP PAC’s ads, as the committee’s year-end report eventually revealed that LBP PAC was wholly financed and produced by groups with clear links to the Democratic Party,” the complaint read.

The complaint is asking the FEC to conduct an investigation and for the commission to “seek appropriate sanctions” for any and all violations of regulations.