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Steve Daines

Steve Daines

Democrats are accusing Republican Steve Daines of campaigning illegally for the U.S. Senate seat held by Jon Tester.

In a document filed Tuesday with the Federal Elections Commission, Daines is accused of running a shadow campaign for the U.S. Senate using soft money from a Colorado political action committee.

The committee, Common Sense Issues, posted a YouTube ad in February attacking Tester, who is up for re-election in 2012, and fellow Montana Democrat Sen. Max Baucus. Halfway through the ad, Daines appears to be stating his biographical information and taking Baucus and Tester to task.

That video launches Daines' campaign for U.S. Senate, said David Benson, Montana Democratic Party executive director. The party's complaint alleges that Daines is more than $5,000 into his campaign and is beyond merely "testing the waters" for a political run.

"If a challenger isn't going to follow basic election laws as we fight for those Montana values, we'll demand accountability," Benson said.

Daines, vice president of Bozeman-based RightNow Technologies, is in Australia on business. In a telephone interview Tuesday, he maintained his noncandidate status and suggested Democrats were attempting to silence him with the complaint, which he hadn't yet seen.

"We've not received anything, other than from the media," Daines said. "I'm curious that they're talking to you before they've filed this with the FEC. I'm not even a candidate right now."

Earlier in the afternoon, Jason Thielman, a Republican volunteer, said Daines would make a political announcement Saturday.

And Internet-based Politico.com quoted Montana Republican Party Chairman Will Deschamps as saying he believes Daines will become the first Republican to file for the Senate nomination.

Earlier there was speculation that Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., would challenge Tester. Politico quotes Daines as saying he spoke to Rehberg and it wasn't clear what the congressman might decide to do. Daines said Rehberg's seniority in the House might keep the Billings politician from attempting a jump to the Senate.

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There is already a Facebook page devoted to drafting Daines for a U.S. Senate run. And the Common Sense Issues political action committee has been airing radio spots attacking Tester.

The ads against Tester don't mention Daines, nor does a website by the same group.

The Montana Republican Party said the complaint resembled one filed against Daines after he launched a campaign for the state of Montana to refund its surplus to taxpayers. Daines later announced his candidacy for lieutenant governor on Republican Roy Brown's ticket.

The refund campaign, which included television, radio and Internet promotion, also offered up Daines' biographical information, family photos and business credentials. It also gave him media exposure, including interviews in which he stated he would not be a candidate for governor.

In that complaint, Democrats alleged that by stating he wouldn't be a candidate, Daines avoided disclosing where the source of the money for his refund campaign.

Public records indicate the older complaint against Daines is still active with no expected resolution date.

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http://politicalpractices.mt.gov/content/2recentdecisions/NoonanMTDemocraticPartyvDainesComplaint