Tester launches first attack ads against Rosendale; how do claims hold up?

Posted at 7:04 AM, Jul 02, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-02 09:04:26-04

While President Trump is coming to Montana to campaign against U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, the Montana Democrat hasn’t wasted any time going after his Republican opponent in the race, Matt Rosendale.

Tester’s campaign launched a pair of TV attack ads shortly after Rosendale won the GOP primary on June 5, calling him a “Maryland real-estate developer” – a label sure to be repeated many times during the contest.

The ads also attempt to paint Rosendale as an enemy of public lands and access to those lands – another line of attack likely to be employed often by Democrats and the Tester campaign.

To what extent are these ads telling the truth, or perhaps stretching it or omitting some information that doesn’t fit their narrative?

MTN News took a closer look at the content and central claims of the ads:

Rosendale as “millionaire real-estate developer from Maryland”: Rosendale moved to Montana from Maryland about 15 years ago, buying a ranch near Glendive, in the far-eastern section of the state.

He’s a Montana resident, has been voting here since then, served in the Legislature for six years and was elected state auditor and insurance commissioner in 2016.

Before moving here, he did work as a real-estate developer in Maryland and was involved in purchasing farmland and turning it into housing developments, as the ad states. However, aerial footage of farmland and a subsequent development in the ad is not actually a Rosendale project, the Tester campaign acknowledged.

Rosendale’s financial-disclosure filed last month indicate he’s worth at least several million dollars.  

Rosendale’s company also has converted agricultural property on the north edge of Great Falls into a housing subdivision called Eagles Crossing.

Saying Rosendale “pushed to transfer our public lands, knowing our state would have to sell them off.”: Four years ago, Rosendale expressed support for the movement to transfer management of federal lands to the states, arguing that states could better manage the lands and create jobs, by allowing more logging and mining.

The ads fail to mention that Rosendale has since abandoned that stance, saying he no longer supports the idea because he’s come to realize that most Montanans don’t support it.

The ad also mentioned Rosendale’s vote in 2015 for House Bill 496, which it called a “back-door” to selling off public lands.

The bill, which passed and was vetoed by Gov. Steve Bullock, set up a state task force to study management of federal public lands with an eye toward improving its “cost-effectiveness.” But it also said the analysis would assume federal lands would “remain in public ownership,” and that the task force should identify safeguards to “protect or enhance … public ownership and public access” of federal lands.

Selling public lands: Critics of the movement to transfer management of federal lands to the states say it would lead to the state selling off those lands, because the state couldn’t afford the management costs.

Such a result is not impossible, but certainly speculative, and would need approval by Congress and the president before the state would have the power to sell federal lands. Rosendale also has never advocated for any such sale, although he has said if that decision was made, it would be made by local people instead of “someone 2,200 miles away.”

Rosendale allegedly wanting to buy public lands and convert them to development: One of the ads says Rosendale supported the transfer of federal lands to the states so “real estate developers like himself can buy them, and cash in, while restricting our access to public lands.”

Rosendale’s developments have involved private transactions between private landowners, and not any public land, his campaign said. In the Great Falls development, Rosendale also donated 11 acres to create a public park for the development, the campaign said.