Fact Checker: Ads attack Rehberg on fire lawsuit, Tester on swipe fees


BOZEMAN, Mont. - Democrat incumbent Senator Jon Tester and Republican Congressman Denny Rehberg are fighting tooth and nail for one of Montana's Senate seats. The race has garnered national attention; Republicans need four more seats to gain control of the Senate, and they hope Montana will be one of the states to deliver.

This week I looked at an ad attacking Tester on credit card swipe fees, paid for by Crossroads GPS. I also examined one going after Rehberg's legal battle with the Billings Fire Department, funded by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Commitee.

"I couldn't believe it when Congressman Dennis Rehberg blamed the fire department for damage to his property," a firefighter says in the DSCC ad. "Rehberg even sued the city of Billings."

This is true. I checked court records, and on July 2, 2010, Rehberg Ranch filed a complaint and demand for a jury trial against the City of Billings and the Billings Fire Department. The suit claims crews "carelessly left the scene of a fire that had not yet been completely extinguished," and failed to notify the property manager as promised. "He eventually dropped the lawsuit, but he cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars," the ad continues.

This is also true. According to the Associated Press, the Rehbergs dropped the lawsuit in November of 2011, saying it had become too politicized. I called Billings City Attorney Craig Hensel -- he told me the city's legal fees totaled exactly $20,761.60.

The new Crossroads GPS ad, attacking Tester, claims: "Jon Tester fought to protect big banks' swipe fees -- an invisible fee that costs consumers billions each year."

It's true -- swipe fees are charges banks impose on merchants when they accept debit or credit cards, and some retailers say they're forced to pass those costs along to consumers. Senator Tester spearheaded an effort to delay fee limits from going into effect, saying the caps could have unintended consequences. But the move failed to get the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate. "And big New York banks made Tester a top recipient of their campaign cash," the ad says.

This is also true. According to the Center for Responsive Politics -- a prominent non-profit, non-partisan research group that tracks political spending -- Tester was a top recipient of contributions from commercial banks in the 2011-2012 cycle. Federal Election Commission data indicates Tester took $273,418.

The only politicians who took more were President Barack Obama, Governor Mitt Romney and Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee.

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