Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Billings Gazette and Burns/Tester funding, revisited

Today's Gazette has an AP article entitled, $293K remains in Burns' coffers. This is a good time to review some of the rhetoric that ran through the press during the hotly contested Burns/Tester Senate race.

Much was made of the fact (and we are reminded of it again in this article) that Burns spent more campaign dollars per vote than any Senate candidate in the country. It is repeatedly said that Burns outspent Tester 3 to 1 (although not in this particular article.)

What isn't said is that these figures represent only the money spent by the official campaigns themselves.

The dirty little secret of campaign finance "reform" is that it limits the amount of money that can be given by individuals to campaigns, but allows unlimited donations to so-called 527 groups. This is a loophole that Democrats were on to from the beginning, and have used to pour immense amounts of resources into races, circumnavigating the intent of campaign finance reform laws -- which were their idea in the first place, mainly because Republicans were trouncing them at traditional fundraising.

The most notorious 527 is, which has been bankrolled by billionaire George Soros. Soros contributed $2.7 million to 527 groups in the 2006 election cycle alone. 527 groups are mainly the domain of ultra-rich liberals and various labor unions.

The phone at Montana Headlines received numerous calls from bashing Conrad Burns during the past campaign. When the caller ID lit up with a phone call from someplace like New Hampshire, one knew what to expect. alone spent more than $350,000 to defeat Conrad Burns. None of this 527 money is included in Jon Tester's reported spending figures.

All of this underscores a dirty little Democrat secret: Republican money tends to come in numerous and relatively small contributions, while Democrat money primarily comes in extremely large donations from the ultra-rich "limousine liberals" who dominate the national Democrat Party organization.

Every year, the Republican National Committee releases the data on the average size of its donations (less than $100), challenging the Democrats to do the same. Every year, the Democrats refuse to release size of their own average contribution, because they know what it will show: their party is the true "party of the ultra-rich."

The AP article ends by insinuating that Conrad Burns will want to hang on to his residual money in order to fight legal battles. One doubts that this will happen, since he has never been charged with anything. This in spite of Governor Schweitzer saying to his supporters during the campaign that a jail cell is waiting for Conrad Burns. (Is there a matching jail cell for Max Baucus, who also took money from Abramoff clients?)

Montana Headlines hopes that Burns will give his money to the Montana Republican Party and Montana Republican candidates. One of the failures of Burns in his tenure as the senior Montana Republican was that he put little effort into building up his party at the grass roots. That failure may have been what really cost him this last election.

One interesting piece of information that the AP article notes in passing is something that was never given any play in the press during the campaign. That information is that Burns ranks 88th in wealth among U.S. Senators. His total maximum net worth is estimated by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics at $340,000 -- chump change compared to most Senators, especially Democrat Senators.

It sounds as though if he were using his office to enrich himself, as Democrats accuse, he wasn't very good at it.

Which raises an interesting question which should continue to be asked here in Montana (and will be asked on Montana Headlines) -- why did Governor Schweitzer refuse to release full personal financial information in the 2004 campaign? And will he release pre-2004 financial information in the 2008 campaign?