In a column last week, Lee Newspaper reporter Mike Dennison asked, “So why is the pharmaceutical-drug lobby handing out $500,000 to a political group called “Montana Growth,” whose office is nowhere near Montana?”
Well, maybe we can help fill in the missing pages from his reporter’s notebook.
The story begins with a comical incident of friendly fire (the Republicans may refer to it as a “red-on-red incident”) between the liberal blogs and Democratic activists in Montana. After The Center for Public Integrity first reported the $500,000 contribution to a group called “Montana Growth,” an anonymous liberal blog in Montana (believed to be run by staffers to the Democratic Governor) went with the assertion that newly elected Supreme Court Justice Laurie McKinnon benefitted from 500 grand in prescription drug company money. Once it was corrected by The Center for Public Integrity, the liberal blogs and activists quickly went silent on that story.
Why? Well, that takes us back to Dennison’s column where he asks why the Rx industry would give money to a Montana political group in the first place. Dennison’s column makes no mention of what should be plainly obvious to any remote political observer in Montana: Senator Max Baucus (D-MT).
Senator Baucus is chairman of the powerful US Senate Finance Committee. His former Chief of Staff managed President Barack Obama’s campaign and personally brokered a deal with the pharmaceutical industry to garner their support for Obamacare. In return, the pharmaceutical industry funded a $150 million ad campaign on behalf of Obamacare, which was authored in large part by Baucus’ staff. Another former Baucus staffer was also under fire last week by The Huffington Post for ties to the pharmaceutical drug industry, after Liz Fowler was reported to leave the White House for another posh gig in the industry. (She also helped draft Obamacare, and, as Bob Brigham reminds me- she helped draft Medicare Part D before previously jumping ship to the Rx industry)
The Huffington Post piece also noted:
When it comes to health care, and health lobbyists, Baucus isn’t just any senator. Since 1998, he has collected more than $5.1 million in campaign contributions from the insurance, pharmaceutical and nursing industries, making him one of the health care sector’s most heavily backed lawmakers.
So, getting back to Dennison’s question- why would the drug companies funnel all this money into a Montana political group? The answer: the firm receiving the money is run by a longtime Baucus staffer (Barrett Kaiser) who also happens to be friends with Jim Messina, and is a former colleague to Liz Fowler. Kaiser’s firm is the same firm that also supported Senator Jon Tester’s (D-MT) re-election effort and funded $500K in TV ads on behalf of the libertarian candidate in the race. As The Center for Public Integrity clarified in their updated report:
The Center was able to track down the recipient of the funds by tracing a federal identification number that showed that “Montana Growth” was formerly known as “Economy Forward.” Records indicate its directors are Jessica Bradley and Carrie Schuyler of the Democratic-aligned public relations firm Hilltop Public Solutions, which has offices in D.C., New York and Billings, Mont.
As The Montana Watchdog’s Dustin Hurst shared via Twitter, Tester is number three when it comes to incoming lawmakers who benefitted from “dark money.”
The whole incident was summed up best by State Senator Jason Priest (R-Red Lodge) and his hilarious response to the charge that he accepted $500,000 in contributions from the Rx industry as the head of The Montana Growth Network:
“I’ve never raised a dime from a pharmaceutical company,” said Republican state Sen. Jason Priest, a board member and former executive director of the Montana Growth Network, which produced radio advertisements and mailings during the election.
“Guys like PhRMA, they want more government,” he said. “They want all this ‘Obamacare’ stuff, all these health care exchanges, the expansion of Medicaid and things that I don’t like.”