By Dustin Hurst | Watchdog.org
HELENA — To err is human, to ignore is, apparently, newsworthy.
As Montana’s hotly contested U.S. Senate race draws to a close, the state’s newspapers have fallen all over themselves to back Democrat Jon Tester for a second term. They’ve given the challenger, Republican Denny Rehberg, the cold shoulder, as it were, allowing Tester’s team to tout a “clean sweep” of editorial board endorsements.
Place their supportive scribblings under a magnifying glass and a startling and unsettling truth reveals itself: In each editorial written by the purveyors of print is something that directly contrasts with Tester’s record.
Perhaps these flubs simply represent oversight. Maybe editorial boards willingly overlook Tester’s flaws because they truly see him as the better candidate to serve Montana’s interests in the Senate.
Perhaps these editorial boards lacked the time or space to sift through the mounds of data and votes. Researching candidates is a lengthy and trying endeavor, a journey not suited for the time-pressed or weak of heart.
Whatever the reason, the endorsements, by skirting a few critical issues — however nuanced and complex — don’t serve people looking to newspapers as transmitters of accurate and honest information.
The Missoulian wrote just days ago that Tester deserves a second term because he has kept his word to Montanans.
“Far from merely adding to the ever-increasing campaign noise, Tester has consistently shown that he follows through on his promises with meaningful action,” the paper wrote on Oct. 25. “He has shown time and again that he will do what he says he will do.”
A quick search of YouTube and Google shows that, while the senator may have kept his promises on some minor policies, he whiffed on some of his top 2006 campaign themes.
For example, Tester repeatedly hammered then-incumbent U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, a Republican, for doubling the national debt. The Democrat, then an eager challenger fresh out of the Montana State Senate, thrashed Burns for not balancing the nation’s checkbook.
After lobbing those attack lines, a voter might reasonably expect Tester to assume the role of deficit hawk and work to slash spending and reduce the debt, right?
The exact opposite happened. Since Tester took office 2006, the debt has nearly doubled and the Senate hasn’t passed a budget since April 29, 2009 — more than 3 1/2 years ago.
But don’t tell the Missoulian’s editorial board; it falsely thinks Tester keeps his promises.
The Bozeman Chronicle endorsed Tester because they believe he’s more willing to work across the aisle to reduce the nation’s debt and deficit. The board also thinks Tester will consider all possibilities for debt-reduction.
“Finding a solution,” Tester told our board, “will start with all options on the table.”
Time and time again, however, Tester’s shown an enthusiastic willingness to unequally burden the nation’s wealthiest with the task of paying back its exploding credit card balance.
Tester supports the death tax, but only for single Americans earning more than $5 million annually or couples pulling down $10 million each year. Earlier this year, Tester supported extending the Bush-era tax cuts for everyone except the wealthy.
The first-term Democrat’s reasoning for burdening a select group of Americans with paying off the entire national indebtedness? Well, they can afford it, so why not?
The decidedly left-leaning Missoula Independent endorsed Tester because, as they say, he’s able to find common ground with Republicans in moving the country forward.
“The important thing here is that Tester has proved he’s willing to work with both sides, and that he’s not representing one side over another,” the Independent wrote last week.
They weren’t the only writers to jump on the bipartisanship bandwagon. The Billings Gazette endorsed the Democrat because they, too, see him as a less-than-partisan lawmaker.
“The Gazette editorial board recommends Tester as the candidate best able to work across the aisle and get important things done for Montana and the country,” the Billings paper explained.
Contrary to the Gazette’s point stands Tester’s actual record. Though the Democrat may have reached across the aisle on smaller matters, when the big issues hit the floor, he joined party-line followers.
Take the president’s health-care reform law, for example. In the U.S. House, more Democrats voted against the bill — at least 30 — than Republicans supported it — none.
In the Senate, exactly zero Republican senators voted for the act on the floor.
Who needs bipartisanship when the government reforms one-sixth of the country’s economy, though?
Additionally, refer to the vote count for the stimulus, a bill that cost American taxpayers at least $800 billion. Tester supported that, justifying his vote by saying the slumping economy needed a jump-start.
That bill passed without a single Republican vote in the House. A mere three GOP senators, Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter, Maine’s Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins – a troika representing the chamber’s most left-leaning Republicans, supported the measure in the Senate.
Finally, the Montana Standard supports Tester because it sees him as a servant to residents’ interests.
“Tester has proven over the last six years that he works for Montanans,” the paper gushed.
Campaign finance reports tell a starkly different story.
Tester is the No. 1 Senate recipient of lobbyist cash this election cycle, taking in more than $450,000 from the K Street dwellers. Of all candidates across all federal elections, Tester’s No. 3, trailing only Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio.
That’s distinct company.
Even more telling is that outsiders primarily fund his campaign. According to OpenSecrets.org, at least 77 percent of Tester’s cash, or about $4.2 million, comes from out-of-state sources. The rest, some $1.2 million, comes from within the Treasure State.
Those figures exclude PAC money, meaning cash donated by Beltway-based public sector unions and environmental groups doesn’t count in that calculation.
So yeah, Tester works for Montana, if by Montana you mean Washington, D.C, San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles — four of his top five donor areas.
Perhaps Montana’s newspapers, instead of digging deep into the past to research endorsements, simply channeled four-term U.S. Sen. Daniel Moynihan of New York.
“You’re entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts,” Moynihan famously said.
Contact: [email protected] or @DustinHurst via Twitter.
Nov. 8 update: A follower smartly noted that three Senate Republicans voted for the stimulus bill. The current version of the story reflects that change. Watchdog regrets the error.