2020 Election

Liberals Turn to ‘Decoy’ Group To Defend Montana’s Bullock on Guns

Astroturf hunting group 'resurrected to try and generate political cover for liberal candidates'

Steve Bullock speaks at the Liberty and Justice Celebration in Des Moines, Iowa / Getty Images

Liberal megadonors in Washington, D.C., and California are bankrolling an astroturf campaign designed to deflect criticism of Montana Democratic governor Steve Bullock's embrace of gun control.

Montana Hunters and Anglers Leadership Fund recently released an ad saying Bullock "took on liberals in his own party" to protect gun rights. The group's website claims to be "all about ensuring that Montanans have places to hunt and fish," asking for donations from "Montana sportsmen and women" in order to "stand up for your unique world class Montana outdoor heritage."

But Montana Hunters and Anglers is funded almost exclusively by liberal interest groups and liberal megadonors in D.C. and California. It has raised $100,000 in the 2020 cycle, with all of the money coming from Silicon Valley physician Karla Jurvetson, who has spent more than $31 million backing Democrats in the last two decades. The group's treasurer, Barrett Kaiser, is a partner at Democratic consulting firm Hilltop Public Solutions and previously served as a "senior advisor" to Bullock's 2012 gubernatorial campaign, according to his online biography.

Bullock, who is running to unseat Republican senator Steve Daines, has scrambled to defend his record on guns in conservative Montana. The Democrat embraced an array of gun-control measures during a failed presidential campaign, in which he told CNN that he supports banning assault weapons, restricting magazine sizes, and instituting red flag laws. Those positions earned Bullock an "F" rating from the National Rifle Association, while Daines received an "A+" rating.

Montana Shooting Sports Association president Gary Marbut called Montana Hunters and Anglers a "decoy group" that poses as a grassroots, pro-Second Amendment organization in order to undermine gun rights.

"They're a decoy group that operates in Montana only during election season," Marbut told the Washington Free Beacon. "They're resurrected to try and generate political cover for liberal candidates."

The group did not return request for comment.

While Montana Hunters and Anglers' latest financial disclosure only shows Jurvetson's $100,000 donation, the group has spent more than $400,000 in 2020 to produce ads and mailers that support Bullock and attack Daines. Its top vendor is Progressive Strategies, a Democratic consulting firm that also assists Planned Parenthood and the shadowy liberal donors club Democracy Alliance.

Montana Hunters and Anglers' most recent ad features Jock Conyngham, a Montana resident who calls himself a "gun guy" and says he is "tired of all the lies about Steve Bullock's record." Conyngham donated $500 to Bullock's Senate campaign in May and also contributed to his presidential campaign in August 2019. He is a frequent critic of Republicans on social media, calling President Donald Trump—who won Montana by more than 20 points in 2016—an "embarrassment" whose "assholicism will catch up to him" in a 2018 tweet.

Montana Hunters and Anglers Leadership Fund was launched in the 2012 cycle and has helped to siphon votes from Republican candidates in past elections. It spent more than $1.1 million to boost libertarian Senate candidate Dan Cox—whom the group labeled the "true conservative" of the race; nearly all of its funds came from the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund and America Votes Action Fund, a pair of left-wing advocacy groups based in Washington, D.C. Cox went on to receive nearly 32,000 votes despite raising less than $50,000 during the campaign. After winning the election by roughly 18,000 votes, Sen. John Tester (D., Mont.) told ProPublica that groups like Montana Hunters and Anglers "were helpful" in delivering his victory.

The group's ad echoed the message that Bullock has used to defend his record on the campaign trail. In an August ad, Bullock said he "believe[s] in our individual right to bear arms" and "took on Democrats in Washington to defend it." Daines criticized Bullock on the issue weeks later during a September debate.

"I have an A+ from the NRA," Daines said. "Steve Bullock has an F."

The Bullock campaign did not return request for comment.