Bloomberg reports that Jon Tester again violated his ethics pledge when he allowed a former member of his staff to lobby him.

Bloomberg also notes that Two-Faced Tester has taken over $400,000 in campaign contributions from lobbyists. 

As OpenSecrets research director Sarah Bryner put it, “[l]obbyists are among Tester’s strongest allies.” 

NRSC Statement: “Two-faced Jon Tester has repeatedly violated the ethics pledge he made to Montanans. It’s time to show this corrupt swamp creature the door.” – NRSC Spokeswoman Maggie Abboud

In case you missed it…

Big Money Montana Senate Race Shows Tester’s Lobbyist Links


Kate Ackley

February 20, 2024

  • Tester’s campaign among top recipients of lobbyist donations
  • Lobbyists also donate to Republican frontrunner Tim Sheehy

Bank of New York Mellon lobbyist Alison O’Donnell, a former senior aide to Sen. Jon Tester, took part in a meeting with her old boss at the end of last year.

It’s the kind of routine huddle that wouldn’t be noteworthy but for two reasons: The Montana Democrat pledged to go beyond Senate requirements by voluntarily disclosing his official calendar, making such interactions public, and he restricts the ability of former aides to lobby him.

A high ethical bar that doesn’t apply to anyone else could be framed as a strength in a re-election campaign this year that will be crucial to deciding which party controls the Senate.

However, there’s a flip side: Anything short of 100% compliance can become an unforced error as Republicans concentrate resources in a state that former President Donald Trump carried by 16 points in 2020.

Campaigns and outside groups from both parties have reserved more than $100 million in ad buys for the race, according to the tracking firm AdImpact.

Tester’s lobbyist and industry connections “will be at the forefront of the campaign against him,” National Republican Senatorial Committee spokeswoman Maggie Abboud said in a statement.

Tester chairs the subcommittee in charge of the Defense Department’s appropriations, shaping decisions about how many billions of dollars should be available for weapons systems, military operations, and personnel. Advocates for industries with something to sell to the Pentagon vie for his time and attention — and show up at his campaign fundraisers.

For instance, Tester’s campaign reported donations last year from the PACs of Lockheed Martin Corp., the Boeing Co., General Dynamics, and Northrop Grumman Corp.

Tester’s campaign and leadership political action committee took in a combined $400,000 from registered lobbyists last year, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission data by the nonpartisan

His re-election campaign alone received just shy of $390,000 from registered federal lobbyists, making him the No. 3 recipient of such money, the analysis found.

That placed him behind only Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash), who chairs the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, and former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

Among the lobbyist donors to Tester’s campaign:

  • Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), who lobbies for the Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education, and Regulation;
  • Jimmy Ryan, managing partner of the lobbying firm Avoq where clients include Boeing; and
  • Lisa Kountoupes, whose lobbying clients at Kountoupes Denham Carr & Reid include the Chevron Phillips Chemical Company, according to lobbying disclosures and campaign finance reports.

Tester’s campaign also disclosed $1.7 million in donations from PACs in 2023, with most of that tied to corporations and business or industry groups, including from Bank of New York Mellon, O’Donnell’s employer, FEC records show. Neither Mellon nor O’Donnell responded to requests for comment.

“Lobbyists are among Tester’s strongest allies,” said OpenSecrets research director Sarah Bryner.

The frontrunner to take on Tester in the fall, Republican Tim Sheehy, runs a company that gets most of its money from federal government contracts and that has employed registered lobbyists.

Sheehy hit the Washington, D.C., fundraising circuit as recently as two weeks ago to raise money from lobbyists with one event led by the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors.

His campaign reported receiving $73,000 in donations from federal lobbyists last year, OpenSecrets tabulated.

Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) criticized Sheehy and Tester, during his days-long campaign for the Senate seat, which he ended last week. Rosendale had said he would reject donations from corporate PACs and lobbyists, as first reported by Bloomberg Government.

Rosendale’s stance, and quick departure from the race, highlights one of the paradoxes of being part of a major political campaign for a battleground seat. Raising money is a metric that’s closely watched as a sign of strength and ability to compete, though it can open a campaign to attacks.

“The downside is the optics, being seen as being too cozy with D.C.,” Bryner said.

Revolving Door

Running for the Senate for the first time in 2006, Tester campaigned on a beyond-what’s-required ethics pledge that drew a contrast with Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), who had been caught up, though not charged with a crime, in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

That high-profile case involved tribes defrauded of millions of dollars and, eventually, conviction of two dozen people on corruption or bribery charges. It spurred Congress to revamp lobbying laws and expand disclosure requirements.

In his 2020 book “Grounded: A Senator’s Lessons on Winning Back Rural America” Tester wrote that his “ethics rules forbid former staffers who become lobbyists from lobbying me ever.”

In practice, Tester imposed a three-year blackout, as reported in 2012 by CQ Magazine.

His office said the meeting his office disclosed in December with former aide O’Donnell didn’t violate Tester’s ethics pledge, despite what he wrote in his 2020 book, because she had not worked for him for more than three years.

CNN first reported the failure to keep the publicly available calendar up-to-date and was told that it was the result of a staff error.

“Senator Tester kept his promise to Montanans to go above and beyond every other Member of Congress when it comes to ethics, transparency, and good governance,” said Tester spokesperson Sarah Feldman in a statement.

“He was the first, and remains one of the only Members to post his public schedule daily, is leading efforts to close the revolving door of lobbyist influence in D.C, and is the only Senator to routinely conduct audits of his office,” she said.

Timothy LaPira, author of a book about the revolving door between government and lobbying, said Tester’s voluntary steps are rooted in good intentions but rely on “self-enforcement, which of course is the worst kind of enforcement.”

“We have to take his word for it,” said LaPira, a political science professor at James Madison University.

How Washington Works

Paul Miller, a longtime lobbyist and founder of the National Institute for Lobbying and Ethics, took a leading role in representing the influence industry during the Abramoff scandal.

He said he views criticism of incumbent interactions with lobbyists as “what happens when candidates don’t have much to run on.”

The Washington reality, he said, is that campaign contributions can be a shortcut to face time.

“For those of us who aren’t the big names in town, it’s an opportunity to meet with lawmakers,” said Miller, who hasn’t donated in the Montana Senate race.

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