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BILLINGS -- Americans for Prosperity, the conservative advocacy group founded by libertarian billionaires Charles and David Koch, has hired a former staffer of U.S. Sen. Steve Daines to direct its Montana office.

David Herbst, was announced Tuesday as Americans for Prosperity Montana director. Herbst replaces Zach Lahn, who managed Daines’ 2012 U.S. House campaign. Lahn is moving into AFP’s national fundraising operation.

AFP praised Herbst for developing sophisticated field campaigns for U.S. Sen. Steve Daines and U.S. Rep Ryan Zinke, both Montana Republicans. Contacted by the Billings Gazette Tuesday, Herbst declined to comment on his hiring unless questions were submitted by email.

Herbst’s hiring comes 16 months before the 2016 general election. AFP has been extremely active in Montana elections in recent years. The group blanketed Montana with fliers and bus tours in 2012 and 2009.

In the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Democrat Jon Tester and former Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg, AFP deployed a traveling call center for what it dubbed the “Tester truth tour.” At parking lot rallies across the state, AFP would inform audiences about Tester’s voting record and then invite them onto the call center bus to call people.

AFP Montana never officially campaigned against Tester. Its tax status as a 501(c)(4), tax exempt, nonprofit, social welfare organization prevents AFP from campaigning against candidates. However it can run information campaigns about candidates’ voting records.

Such social welfare groups can also ask voters to call an official and thank them, or conversely ask them to stop voting a certain way. The groups cannot tell people how to vote.

AFP also advocates for and against public policy. It held rallies across Montana in 2009 in opposition to tighter air pollution standards proposed by Congress.

Earlier this year, Zach Lahn, departing AFP Montana state director, made national headlines after his comments about Montana Medicaid expansion backfired.

AFP Montana had launched an informational campaign against Medicaid expansion in state legislative districts held by Republican lawmakers.

When Medicaid expansion passed, Lahn issued a statement saying “the decision stands directly against the voices of millions of Montanans who made it clear they do not want more Obamacare.”

The AFP Montana director was skewered for not knowing that there aren’t millions of Montanans. The state’s population is about 1 million. AFP critics lampooned Lahn by launching a #millionsofmontanans campaign on Twitter.

In its written announcement of Herbst’s hiring, AFP Montana noted in the second sentence that Herbst is a fifth-generation Montanan. 

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