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Rosendale asks court to dismiss campaign finance lawsuit

| January 28, 2022 7:00 AM

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana is asking a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit that alleges his campaign and the National Rifle Association illegally worked together to run ads during his unsuccessful 2018 race against Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester.

The gun control group Giffords filed the lawsuit in November, alleging the NRA and its affiliates worked with Rosendale's campaign and produced nearly $400,000 in campaign ads criticizing Tester's votes on three U.S. Supreme Court nominees.

The lawsuit argues that Rosendale and the NRA hired the same company for their ad buys that could have acted as a conduit for the campaign to illegally share information with the group. Rosendale's campaign hired a consulting firm called OnMessage, while the NRA used a firm called Starboard. The firms have the same office address and board of directors.

It's illegal for outside groups and candidates to use the same vendor without taking measures to prevent coordination.

The accusation against Rosendale is part of a larger lawsuit that alleged the NRA, dating back to 2014, worked "to evade campaign finance regulations by using a series of shell corporations to illegally but surreptitiously coordinate advertising with at least seven candidates for federal office."

Former President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign received up to $25 million as part of the scheme, the lawsuit states.

Rosendale's Jan. 21 filing argues the Giffords group does not have standing to file the lawsuit and that the U.S. District Court in Washington lacks the jurisdiction to hear the case. The Giffords group was founded by former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona, who suffered a brain injury after being shot in the head during a mass shooting in January 2011 while speaking with constituents near Tucson, Arizona. Six people were killed, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl.

Rosendale's filing did not address the merits of the lawsuit, The Billings Gazette reported.

The Giffords group asked the Federal Election Commission in September 2018 to investigate the after The Daily Beast posted a recording that appeared to capture Rosendale saying that he expected the NRA and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to enter the race against Tester and that he had spoken with Chris Cox, executive director of NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, the group's lobbying arm.

Rosendale on Tuesday reissued the same statement he made when the lawsuit was filed, calling the allegations baseless and saying "there have been no findings by the Federal Election Commission that suggests their claims have any merit."

The FEC did not issue any rulings on the complaint, so Giffords sued the FEC.

The Washington, D.C., District Court ordered the FEC to issue a determination within 30 days, which it didn't do. Because the FEC did not follow the court order, Giffords was allowed to sue the defendants directly, the Gazette reported.

Rosendale planned to file Wednesday as a candidate in Montana's new 2nd congressional district, his campaign said.