Montana Republican Party candidate has not disclosed his post at right-wing think tank

Montana Senate candidate Tim Sheehy has not disclosed his role at the Property and Environment Research Center, a nonprofit property rights and environmental research organization that has a history of advocating for and reversing privatization of U.S. federal lands. environmental laws including the Endangered Species Act.

Sheehy, a former Navy SEAL and wealthy businessman running against incumbent Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), joined PERC’s board in 2022, according to the organization. files with the tax authorities. But he failed to include his position at the think tank in his campaign financial disclosures, in violation of Senate rules, HuffPost has learned.

Public lands originated as a important issue in the race, with Tester painting Sheehy as a threat to their future and the way of life in Montana. Sheehy’s failure to publicize his work at PERC could further complicate his already messy reporting on public lands policy.

Sheehy reported serving as a board director at other nonprofits; However, PERC is not listed on its disclosure form.

Sheehy’s campaign told HuffPost that Sheehy resigned from the board before entering the Senate race last June. When asked why he did not disclose his role at PERC, campaign spokesperson Katie Martin said:This omission was a mistake. We are working to amend the report.”

Senate rules require candidates to report both paid and unpaid positions they held at a business venture, nonprofit organization, labor organization or educational institution in the two years prior to their candidacy.

PERC confirmed that Sheehy left the board before announcing his campaign last year. But as of Wednesday, PERC’s website still listed Sheehy as a board member.

“Tim was elected to the board in the fall of 2022 due to his relevant background as a successful local entrepreneur in forest health, wildfires and livestock, all of which are conservation issues we are working on,” said Kat Dwyer, marketing and media manager of the organisation. , according to an email.

Tim Sheehy secured the Republican nomination last week to take on Democratic Senator Jon Tester.  It is one of the most hotly contested races in 2024.Tim Sheehy secured the Republican nomination last week to take on Democratic Senator Jon Tester.  It is one of the most hotly contested races in 2024.

Tim Sheehy secured the Republican nomination last week to take on Democratic Senator Jon Tester. It is one of the most hotly contested races in 2024. Tim Sheehy for Montana

Founded in 1980 and based in Bozeman, Montana, PERC describes itself as an “independent,” “nonpartisan” think tank that advocates “free market environmentalism” – the idea that private property rights and market incentives lead to better environmental and nature conservation rather than government regulation.

Sheehy founded Bridger Aerospace, a Bozeman, Montana-based aerial firefighting company that relies almost exclusively on federal contracts. Like HuffPost before reportedBridger has continued to position himself as a leader in the fight against climate change, even as Sheehy has toeed the Republican line on the campaign trail, railing against what he calls the “climate cult” and “radical environmentalists.”

So does the millionaire businessman owns a vast 7,000 acre farm in Martinsdale, Montana, where he co-founded a cattle company once offered exclusive, paid yacht excursions.

PERC is widely seen as a right-wing outfit. It has deep historical ties to the fossil fuel industry and Donors Trust, a conservative group that Mother Jones once called the “dark money ATM on the rightThat has funneled millions of dollars to climate change denial groups. Kimberley Dennis, co-founder and chairman of Donors Trust, is a current member of PERC’s Board of Directors.

PERC says it is “incorrect” to characterize the group as right-wing.

“PERC is a nonpartisan conservation organization committed to conserving lands, waters and wildlife through innovative market and incentive solutions,” said Dwyer. “PERC proudly works with policymakers across the political spectrum, including the Biden administration, on issues such as forest restoration, Wild Horse Adoption Incentives, preserving the migration corridorAnd virtual fencing technology.”

Oil giant ExxonMobil and the Koch family foundations have done that historically PERC moneybut PERC told HuffPost that it has received no funding from fossil fuel companies in the past decade.

Yet it remains a “partner” from the State Policy Network, a web of right-wing, industry-linked think tanks that have waged decades of war on environmental regulations, renewable energy and climate science. PERC supported the Trump administration’s industry-friendly rollback of Endangered Species Act protections and insisted the Biden administration will not undo the Trump-era changes.

“PERC has an established, 44-year history of advocating for the circumvention and undermining of our nation’s fundamental environmental laws in favor of private property rights,” said Matthew Koehler, media director at Wilderness Watch, an environmental organization based in Missoula, Montana. “Over the past five years I have noticed that they have gone to full press in court to rebrand themselves and tone down some of their rhetoric, and through creative marketing trick unsuspecting people into thinking that their solutions are – quote , quote unquote – be true. tastier. But ultimately this is an organization that is far-right.”

PERC simply cannot run away from its history, Koehler added.

Over the past four decades, the group has advocated privatizing federal lands, including national parks, increasing fees for visiting parks and other federal lands, and eliminating deferred maintenance of parks by diverting funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a decades-old program that uses offshore fossil fuel revenues to create and protect parks, nature reserves, forests and wildlife habitat.

In a 1999 policy paper titled “How and Why to Privatize Federal Lands,” then-PERC Director Terry Anderson and others laid out what they called “a blueprint for auctioning off all public lands over a 20-year period.” up to 40 years’.

Local control needs to be returned, whether that means turning some of these public lands over to state agencies or even counties, or whether those decisions are made by a local landowner rather than by, you know, federal fiat. few thousand kilometers away.GOP Senate candidate Tim Sheehy in an October interview with “Working Ranch Radio Show”

PERC says its support for the privatization of public lands is a thing of the past. Anderson’s 1999 article “is not representative of PERC’s current thinking,” Dwyer said.

PERC strongly believes that public lands should remain in public hands. We do not advocate or support privatization or disinvestment,” she said. “We support improved management of our public lands and use market-based incentives to achieve better management, such as conservation lease to enable conservation on public lands, tackling deferred maintenancestreamlining permits for more forest restorationand another one creative application of user fees in our national parks to support our regulators and the unique needs of their parks.”

Like PERC, Sheehy, a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump, is trying to distance himself from a once full-throated embrace of pledging federal lands. Like HuffPost first reportedLast year, he advocated for federal lands to be “transferred” to states — a deeply unpopular position among voters in Western states, including Montana.

“Local control must be returned,” Sheehy said told the “Working Ranch Radio Show” in October, “whether that means, you know, that some of these public lands are turned over to government agencies or even counties, or whether those decisions are made by a local landowner rather than by, you know, a federal fiat of a few thousand kilometers away. away.”

Despite these comments, which came several months into his campaign, Sheehy says he opposes the sale and transfer of federal lands and that he accused Tester and his allies lie about his position.

“Tim believes that public lands should remain in public hands,” Sheehy’s spokesperson said in a statement. “Tim believes Montanans know best how to manage our country, not the bureaucrats in Washington.”

Sheehy and PERC now apparently agree on the issue of keeping public lands public, but they disagree on other policies.

PERC has long supported the idea of ​​leasing federal lands for conservation and applauded the Biden administration’s recent rule to begin issuing such leases to put ecosystem conservation and restoration on par with drilling, mining and other traditional land uses.

But like most Republicans in Congress, Sheehy has condemned the Biden administration’s changes to public land leasing.

“Instead of supporting the producers they should be facilitating, they are imposing restrictions that could potentially put them out of business,” he said. “Working Ranch Radio” last year, referring to federal land managers. “So taking some of these tenancies away from agricultural production and moving them towards conservation is very concerning.”

Nico Delgado, a spokesperson for the Democratic super PAC American Bridge 21st Century, told HuffPost that Sheehy’s failure to disclose his role at PERC is part of a trend of “bending the truth with Montanans.” Delgado noted, among other things, that Sheehy admitted to lying to a national park ranger about how he suffered a gunshot wound, as the Washington Post first reported. reported.

“Now he’s hiding because he’s part of a group that wanted to collect the costs for national parks,” Delgado said.