HELENA — A Montana hunting-and-angling group with Democratic ties has made a large TV ad buy rapping Republican U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg for his support of a bill that gives the U.S. Border Patrol access to all federal lands for border-security purposes.
Calling the bill a “federal land grab of the highest order,” Montana Hunters and Anglers Action bought ads in the Missoula and Billings television markets that urged viewers to call Rehberg and ask him to oppose the bill.
The ads, airing on network and cable TV stations, began Monday and will continue for three weeks, said Land Tawney of Missoula, president of the newly formed group.
Tawney, a senior manager for the National Wildlife Federation, wouldn’t reveal the cost of the buy, but sources told the Gazette State Bureau that it’s between $200,000 and $250,000.
Rehberg, in a statement, said the bill — House Resolution 1505 — is not a “land grab,” but rather merely an attempt to allow the Border Patrol to carry out security operations on federal lands near international borders without getting involved in a “turf war” with other agencies.
“This legislation is simply about making sure that the Border Patrol has the same critical access to do its important job on federal lands as it has on nonfederal lands,” he said.
The bill, which passed a House committee three weeks ago and awaits floor action, says the Department of Homeland Security will have access to all federal lands within 100 miles of the border, for security purposes, and can waive numerous environmental and regulatory laws to carry out its duties.
Rehberg’s campaign also said Montana Hunters and Anglers Action is essentially a Democratic front group formed to attack Rehberg and support the campaign of U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who is being challenged by Rehberg in the 2012 election.
The group registered with the Montana secretary of state’s office Oct. 6 as a nonprofit group.
In addition to Tawney, its officers include Democratic state Sen. Kendall Van Dyk of Billings; Barrett Kaiser, a Billings communications consultant and former aide to U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.; and George Cooper, a senior vice president for a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm and former news producer for CNN.
As a 501(c) (4) educational group, Montana Hunters and Anglers Action is not required to reveal its financial donors. Tawney said the donors have asked not to be identified, but that they include individuals and organizations.
Tawney said Montanans should look beyond who’s sponsoring the ad at its message and content: That HR1505 gives far too much power to the Department of Homeland Security to ignore federal land-use laws and possibly put in jeopardy access to public lands.
The bill allows the department to waive 36 other laws for security operations, which could include building roads and fences and setting up monitoring equipment, he said.
“It gives us no assurance that there won’t be big swaths of federal land off-limits to hunters and anglers,” Tawney said.
The ad shows off-road vehicle drivers, hunters and farmers with black tape over their mouths, as a voice-over says Montanans will have “no say” over land-use decisions if the bill passes.
Rehberg said he amended the bill to ensure that already-approved access and uses for federal lands, such as hunting and grazing, won’t be prevented by the law.
“There is nothing about this bill that creates any new authority to intrude into the lives of Americans,” he said.