A Billionaire-Backed Super PAC Attacks a Homegrown Congressional Candidate

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Country singer Rob Quist is running for Congress in Montana. The 1 percent wants to stop him.

By Jimmy Tobias


Rob Quist at a campaign stop in Helena, Montana. (Photo: Montanabw/Wikimedia Commons)

Rob Quist’s local roots, his rustic style, and, most importantly, his populist positions on issues like public land management and universal health care, make him the sort of homegrown Democrat that might actually succeed in a rural state like Montana. The banjo-picking country singer is running to be the Big Sky’s next Congressman and, as I wrote in a previous column, his political beliefs and his public image are a promising combination. He’s a contender and he’s catching on.

Earlier this month, for instance, the Great Falls Tribune published a series of letters from Montana voters supporting Quist over his opponent, the wealthy technology entrepreneur Greg Gianforte. One of the voters, a Dulcy Zoellner of Whitefish, summed up the race in a concise and cutting fashion: “Any state can elect a Gianforte. Only Montana can elect a Rob Quist. He’s the real deal.”

On April 11th, meanwhile, the Quist campaign reported that it had raised more than $1.3 million from more than 20,000 individuals at an average contribution of approximately $40 in just a little over a month. That’s a mighty haul for a candidate that the Democratic establishment has largely ignored and who has refused to accept donations from lobbyists and corporate PACs.

As he traverses the state talking health care, conservation, and Main Street economics, as he shakes hands and holds town halls in anticipation of Montana’s May 25th special election, Quist’s campaign appears to be making the Republican Party afraid. GOP operatives are already hard at work and spending heavily to smear their Democratic opponent as out of touch and out of place in the state that bore and bred him. As the Wall Street Journal reported last week, a group called the Congressional Leadership Fund, or CLF, has committed at least $1 million to combat Quist. Much of that spending will go toward attack ads meant to sully the country singer’s reputation.

In early March, in its first foray into the race, CLF started running an advertisement titled “Out of Tune.”

“Rob Quist may be entertaining,” it proclaims. “But on the issues he’s out of tune with Montana.” The ad features images of rifle-toting jihadists and an ominous shot of Capitol Hill, among other fear-inducing visuals. It concludes by claiming Quist is “too liberal and out-of-touch for Montana.”

But, folks, here’s the tragicomic truth: The Congressional Leadership Fund, or CLF, has a few credibility issues. Not only is it a Republican Super PAC headquartered in Washington, D.C., but the people who pay its bills aren’t exactly the embodiment of Big Sky values. CLF, after all, is largely funded by an elite group of billionaires, millionaires, and enormous corporations based in places like New York, Chicago, Las Vegas, and California. It gets its cash from city-living tycoons who have made their millions in hedge funds, casinos, energy extraction, and banking. This — this! — is the organization challenging Quist’s Montana bona fides.

Here, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, are some of the grandees who have given to CLF in the last year:

  • Sheldon Adelson, founder, chairman, and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, an enormous casino enterprise, donated at least $10 million. His wife Miriam donated another $10 million.
  • Stephen Schwarzman, the chairman and CEO of the New-York-based Blackstone Group, a private equity firm, donated at least $1.7 million.
  • Paul E. Singer, who runs a New York-based hedge fund called Elliot Management Corporation, donated at least $1.5 million.
  • Kenneth C. Griffin, founder and chief executive of the Chicago-based investment firm Citadel, donated at least $1 million.
  • Charles Schwab, the California-based billionaire investor, donated at least $250,000.
  • Thomas E. McInerney, CEO of the Connecticut-based private equity firm Bluff Point Associates, donated at least $200,000.
  • The Chevron Corporation, based in California, donated at least $1.25 million.
  • Devon Energy, the Oklahoma-based oil and gas corporation, donated at least $500,000.
  • Altria, the Virginia-based cigarette conglomerate, donated at least $175,000.

A few of the individuals above, it’s worth noting, are also allies of the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, who lead a powerful network of right-wing think tanks, pressure groups, and academic institutes that operate across the country. As I’ve written before, Koch-backed organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council and the State Policy Network have been key players in the land transfer movement, an effort to hand over federal public lands to state and private interests. Both Charles Schwab and Paul Singer have given at least $1 million to support the Koch’s agenda over the years, according toMother Jones. Investigative reporter Jane Mayer, in her book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, also names J. Larry Nichols, the head of Devon Energy, as a key Koch network donor.

These are halcyon days for hypocrisy: The Congressional Leadership Fund, avatar of the ultra-wealthy, is trying to convince Montanans that Rob Quist is out of touch. It is trying to persuade people using poisonous rhetoric and slick posturing that Quist’s kind of politics have no place in his home state. Backed by magnates so rich they can spend their extra millions on Super PACs, it wants voters to believe that a country singer from Cut Bank doesn’t represent Big Sky priorities. Imagine that.