GOP official forms Montana-focused super PAC

State girding for contentious U.S. Senate battle

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(Update, May 5, 2014, 12:01 p.m.: The Big Sky Freedom Fund has entered the political fray in the competitive GOP primary for Montana's sole seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, according to new filings with the Federal Election Commission. With Rep. Steve Daines, a Republican, running for U.S. Senate, five Republicans are now seeking the party's nomination for the House race. Documents filed Monday show the Big Sky Freedom Fund spending more than $83,000 backing former state Sen. Corey Stapleton.)

There’s a new and mysterious political animal roaming on the Montana plains, where one of the hottest U.S. Senate races is brewing.

A super PAC called the “Big Sky Freedom Fund,” based in Billings, Mont., isn't indicating who its leaders are or who it's backing.

It only says it intends “to raise funds in unlimited amounts” and to explicitly call for the election or defeat of federal candidates, according a registration form letter filed this week with the Federal Election Commission.

One clue does exist, though: The name of its treasurer, Nancy Watkins — the only person named on its FEC filing — suggests the group will have a pro-Republican orientation.

The Florida-based Watkins ranks among the GOP's most prominent campaign accountants. Her other clients includes the likes of Rep. Michele Bachmann’s leadership PAC, former Ambassador John Bolton’s super PAC and TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts’ Ending Spending Action Fund super PAC.

Watkins — who, along with her husband, also raised at least $100,000 for President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign, according to Texans for Public Justice — did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bowen Greenwood, the executive director of the Montana Republican Party, told the Center for Public Integrity that he was unaware of the new super PAC.

“I’m afraid I don’t have any information on that,” he said.

The race for Montana's U.S. Senate seat — long-held by Democrat Max Baucus, who resigned earlier this year to become the next ambassador to China — is already attracting significant out-of-state interest despite the state's small voting population.

Republicans need to pick up six Senate seats to wrest control of Congress’ upper chamber away from the Democrats this fall — and many hope that Montana will be one of them.

Democrat John Walsh, the state’s former lieutenant governor, is currently serving as the interim senator. He faces a primary challenge on June 3, and the winner of that race is expected to square off against Republican Steve Daines, the state’s current lone congressman.

Already, American Crossroads — the super PAC juggernaut co-founded by GOP strategist Karl Rove — has reported spending about $150,000 on ads attacking Walsh.

And Americans for Prosperity — the nonprofit supported by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch — has also spent about $400,000 on ads thanking Daines for voting against President Barack Obama’s signature health care reform law, according to the Billings Gazette.

Lauren Passalacqua, a spokeswoman for Walsh's campaign, said she was unfamiliar with the Big Sky Freedom Fund but said Walsh's opponents were "threatened by John and the good work he’s doing."

"We expect a lot of dark money groups to try to buy this election for Congressman Steve Daines," she added.

  

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