The Missoula Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to members Tuesday saying it does not condone a set of "counterproductive" U.S. Chamber of Commerce-sponsored campaign advertisements targeting Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.
"As an independent organization governed by local business and community partners, we do not automatically agree with either the Montana Chamber of Commerce or the U.S. Chamber on their polices or messages," the letter said.
It notes that the Missoula Chamber's goal is to foster "positive collaboration with local policymakers." The letter is signed by Kim Latrielle, Chamber president, and John Brauer, board chairman.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce advertisements have aired on TV for several weeks in Montana, and include several 30-second pieces that depict Tester as anti-small business and anti-family.
Democratic incumbent Tester is running for a second Senate term against Rep. Denny Rehberg, a Republican.
The letter was released to address concerns raised by members over the advertisements, and to clear up misinformation about how the ads were funded, Missoula Chamber government relations liaison Steve Mauer said.
"We do not engage, support or endorse political candidates, we don't pay for advertisements that go in that direction. Unfortunately, there's misinformation about how that payment goes," Mauer said. "We pay dues to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. ... They have a separate entity that does their political advertising."
Mauer called the U.S. Chamber to make sure no Missoula Chamber dollars were used in the political ads. Instead, the membership dues go to purchasing information resources, he said.
Mauer received fewer than 10 letters, emails or phone calls voicing concern about the ads, but said "even one person who complains gets on my radar, that means something's not right."
The U.S Chamber ads contain many "half-truths," Mauer said.
One advertisement says "Unemployment in Montana has more than doubled since Jon Tester went to Washington. What's he been up to in Washington? Tester voted for $500 billion in new taxes to pay for Obamacare, taxes that will increase health care costs for employers and destroy jobs."
It urges residents to call Tester's office and tell him "Montana deserves better than high taxes and lost jobs."
Tester campaign spokesman Aaron Murphy responded to the letter in an emailed statement Tuesday, saying Rehberg's "out-of-state friends are spending lots of special-interest money to distort Jon's record - a record that includes writing and passing the only jobs bill signed into law in the past year. Real Montanans know who Jon is and the responsible decisions he makes, and they see right through false ads like this."
Tester's campaign noted that a similar statement written by the president of the Great Falls Chamber of Commerce was published Monday as a letter to the editor in the Great Falls Tribune.
The Missoula Chamber has reached out to Tester, and Mauer said chamber staff will meet with members of the senator's staff next week, Mauer said.
Reporter Jenna Cederberg can be reached at 523-5241 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.