In GOP Senate primary, obscure group dings Rosendale; Club for Growth ups ante against Fagg

Posted at 11:04 AM, May 25, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-25 13:04:39-04

Independent, outside money continues to flow into Montana’s U.S. Senate Republican primary contest – including a little-known group buying TV ads to attack state Auditor Matt Rosendale as “Maryland Matt.”

A prominent group supporting Rosendale also upped its spending on ads going after one of his competitors in the four-way primary, Russell Fagg.

Club for Growth Action announced Friday it will spend another $250,000 to air the ad, coming on top of the $630,000 it already spent earlier this month.

All told, more than $2.7 million has been spent by outside groups on Montana’s GOP Senate primary – an extraordinary amount for an intraparty primary in Montana.

Rosendale, Fagg, Big Sky businessman Troy Downing and state Sen. Al Olszewski are competing for the Republican nomination to take on U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, who’s considered one of the more vulnerable Democratic incumbents in the nation.

The election is June 5, but as of Thursday evening, 108,000 people had already voted by absentee ballot.

Rosendale, the likely front-runner in the race, has courted and gained support from conservative national figures and groups, such as the Club for Growth.

All of the outside spending had been supporting Rosendale or attacking Fagg – until last week, when Principles First PAC bought about $50,000 in TV time in Missoula for an ad rapping Rosendale.

The ad refers to Rosendale as “Maryland Matt” – a pejorative often used by Democrats to label him as a recent arrival to the state – and says he signed legal documents “affirming he’s a Maryland citizen.” Rosendale moved from Maryland to Montana in 2002.

Rosendale’s campaign denounced the ad as “blatantly false,” saying that a Maryland title company has said, in writing, that the 2015 land-sale document indicating Rosendale is a resident of Maryland is a mistake that it made.

Principles First PAC is not registered with the Federal Election Commission and a media buyer for the group did not return a telephone message from MTN.

Documents filed with the ad purchase say one of the PAC’s officers is Randy Pullen, a former chairman of the Arizona Republican Party.

On Friday, Club for Growth Action said it will spend another $250,000 airing a TV ad that attacks Fagg’s record as a district judge in Billings, saying he took it easy on criminals.

“It is important for Montanans to have all the facts when it comes time to vote, and that’s why Club for Growth Action is investing additional resources to ensure that every corner of the state knows that Russ Fagg is tough on victims and light on crime,” said the group’s president, David McIntosh.

Fagg has denounced the ad as misleading and a “desperate, last-minute” ploy to prop up Rosendale.

Club for Growth Action has now spent $880,000 producing and airing the ad, and earlier spent an additional $530,000 on TV and digital ads supporting Rosendale.

In March and April, two groups financed by Illinois billionaire Richard Uihlein also spent $1.2 million on TV and radio ads promoting Rosendale.