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SEN. JON Tester’s appointment to head up the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is a feather in his cap, and should help Montana by boosting his influence in the Senate.
But the assignment, a two-year gig, also poses some dangers. One of his key tasks will be raising – and doling out – big bucks, which primarily come from wealthy donors.
Tester’s been outspoken about the influence of money, particularly “dark money,” the type that comes from undisclosed donors. He’s sponsoring a constitutional amendment to get the big money out of politics, as well as legislation to require more transparency by “dark-money” groups.
Because of Tester’s work with the campaign committee, his critics may accuse him of hypocrisy – a possibility that seems to make even some backers nervous. It could also draw attention to his 2012 campaign, in which dark money played a key role in helping him get elected, as explained by this in-depth Pro Publica report.
BUZZ was watching Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill being interviewed on "Face the Nation" Sunday when she was asked if her party's recent appointment of "fiery populist" Sen. Elizabeth Warren into the Senate leadership wouldn't signal a turn to the left when voters wanted more centrism.
McCaskill, one of the few senators to oppose Harry Reid's election as Democratic leader, responded that the party wasn't turning its back on more moderate leaders. She noted that Reid named Montana Sen. Jon Tester to head up the party's Senate campaign efforts the same day he named Warren to a leadership post.
She described Tester as a "flat-top farmer from Montana who is about as salt of the earth as you can get, and who is a moderate through and through and so his voice is going to be in that room along with Elizabeth Warren's."
Indeed, Tester's views on issues such as gun control and the Keystone pipeline may cause hard-core liberals some angst. But they also recognize that he knows how to win elections on turf that's traditionally tough ground for liberals.
Meanwhile, Huffington Post reported that Tester got the job because the other finalist, Sen. Chris Coons of Connecticut, bowed out due to family considerations.
FEDERAL prosecutors have opened a money-laundering investigation into the US financial activities of a member of Russian President Vladimir Putin's inner circle. The probe is looking at billionaire Gennady Timchenko's dealings with the Swiss-based Gunvor trading house, in which Putin also is believed to have investments.
You wouldn't think that could have anything to do with Montana, but you'd be wrong. Why? Because of reports that Gunvor became an investor in Montana's Signal Peak Mine in 2011.
Critics argue the mine is buying federal coal at below-market prices and selling it at a hefty profit overseas. And now, they say, it appears some of that profit may be going to into Vladimir Putin's pockets.
Federal regulators recently declared that there wouldn't any significant environmental impact from the expansion of the mine onto nearby federal lands, thus eliminating the need for a time-consuming environmental impact statement.
A WEEK before the election, Flathead Beacon columnist Mike Jopek, a former Democratic legislator from Whitefish, complained that the MSU-Billings poll was predicting strong GOP victories in statewide races for federal offices.
The problem, Jopek argued, was that the MSU poll "leans right." As evidence, he said the polls showed that Sen. Jon Tester would lose his bid for reelection in 2012 "big time" when he actually won by a "large margin."
This got Buzz to wondering: Is the MSU poll, as Jopek claimed, "conservative?"
Tester did defeat Dennis Rehberg by a 49-45 percent margin. And the MSU poll found Rehberg leading 43-40 several weeks before the election. But then, a Mason-Dixon poll (as Jopek acknowledges) also predicted a Rehberg victory. As did a Lee Newspapers poll showing Rehberg ahead 48-45.
Were they also "conservative" polls? Or could it be that Tester and his allies simply outmaneuvered Rehberg in the campaign's closing weeks?
So how did the MSU poll do in other races that year? It had Republican Rick Hill up by 2 points (within the margin of error) in the governor's race, but Democrat Steve Bullock won by 2 points. It also had GOP congressional candidate Steve Daines ahead of Kim Gillan 36-23, and he won by a 53-43 percent margin. So you can argue that the poll numbers seemed to slightly favor Republicans in 2012.
In 2008, however, the MSU poll was pretty dead on, though we won't go into the numbers for space reasons.
What about this year? The MSU poll found Daines ahead of Democrat Amanda Curtis in the Senate race by a 47-31 margin. Daines won 58-40. The poll also had GOP congressional candidate Ryan Zinke ahead of Democrat John Lewis 40-33. Zinke ended up winning by a 55-40 margin. So the poll significantly understated the margin of victory for both Daines and Zines -- even more so than it missed on Tester's race.
Does this mean that, by Jopek's standard, that the MSU poll now "leans left?"