The Campaign for Accountability's assault on Utah state Rep. Ken Ivory last week felt so familiar.
CfA, an offshoot of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, filed three complaints — in Montana, Arizona and Colorado — against Ivory, alleging he's defrauding taxpayers by pushing the federal government to transfer its lands to the states.
As CfA and unassuming and unchecking reporters blasted out the allegations, I couldn't shake the feeling I'd seen this charade played out on a different stage.
Then it hit me: CREW deployed the same tactics during the 2012 U.S. Senate contest between incumbent Democrat Jon Tester and challenger Denny Rehberg, a Republican who served multiple terms in the U.S. House.
I covered that race during my time with MontanaWatchdog.org. It was an ugly contest and CREW's nasty and fake attacks only worsened the process.
The backstory: In 2012, CREW rolled into Montana just weeks before the November elections, and alleged Rehberg fibbed to investigators about his role in a catastrophic boat crash on Flathead Lake. Former state Sen. Greg Barkus took full responsibility for the accident, but that hardly deterred Rehburg's opponents.
The group asked the local sheriff's office to release some documents regarding the incident, and launched its line of attack October 1, 2012.
"Further, it seems Sen. Barkus and Rep. Rehberg may not have been honest when questioned by investigators," CREW executive director Melanie Sloan wrote at the time.
Flathead County released the requested documents just days before the election, earning Rebherg nightmarish headlines. The Republican went on to lose the election by a nearly 4-point margin.
More importantly, though, the Rehberg complaint went absolutely nowhere. CREW last touched the issue on Oct. 31, 2012, just six days before Election Day.
Although Montana has laws on the books to prevent witnesses from lying to investigators, Rehberg never faced punishment.
That was never the point, anyway. And seeing Ivory in chains isn't CfA's objective , either.
Instead, attentive observers see their group's modus operandi playing out on Facebook, Twitter and in local papers. Headlines, not charges, is what this group wants.
It's brilliant and working perfectly. The Salt Lake Tribune offered this totally fair take to break the news: Utah 'snake oil salesman' Rep. Ken Ivory accused of fraud for hitting up counties in three states for public lands fight donations.
I really hope someone got a bonus for persuading the reporter to write that garbage.
CfA works with FitzGibbon Media, a Washington, D.C., public relations firm, on media distribution. On the firm's website, it offers this description of its services: We're tapped into the news cycle, securing top-flight media coverage of our clients' work.
Mission accomplished. The issue won't go away quickly for Ivory and his American Lands Council. That's the idea. As investigators look into ALC and its advocacy for local control of federal lands, CfA and its pals, like Better Idaho, will be sure to fill the news cycle and friendly reporters' inboxes with nasty allegations.
To be clear, investigating shady actors in government is critical and necessary. Sadly, this isn't that. This is a public relations campaign meant to sideline a key figure in the growing movement asking the federal government to release its tight grip on Western states.
This isn't about good government. This isn't about ensuring governments use their resources wisely. This is propaganda and nothing more.
As my colleague Fred Birnbaum wrote Monday, "The progressive and environmental community are not about freedom, they are about maintaining federal control and oversight of many things in Idaho and seeing Idaho as an administrative unit of the federal government."