Democrats attempted to take aim at Montana Republican Senate candidate Tim Sheehy for a potential conflict of interest claim, while ignoring incumbent Sen. Jon Tester — who helped pass a farm bill that benefited his own business.
Bloomberg reported Friday that Sheehy’s fire fighting aviation company, which holds many government contracts, could present a conflict of interest if he’s elected in 2024. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) amplified the report.
A spokesperson for Sheehy told Fox News Digital he would step down from his CEO role if elected to the Senate next cycle. Meanwhile, Tester, who currently owns farmland worth up to $5 million according to his financial disclosures, voted for legislation in 2018 that would provide $400 billion in taxpayer subsidies and expanded support for organic farming, which is core to his own operation. He also has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in farm subsidies over the past three decades.
‘It’s surprising to see Democrats attack Tim Sheehy over his firefighting business when Jon Tester has voted for farming subsidies that benefit himself and his family,’ Maggie Abboud, spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told Fox News Digital.
Senate ethics rules prohibit senators and their staff from engaging ‘in any outside business or professional activity or employment for compensation which is inconsistent or in conflict with the conscientious performance of official duties.’ Tester did not answer Fox News Digital’s question regarding whether his subsidies represent an appearance of a conflict of interest.
Tester’s farm, T-Bone Farms, has received $458,064 in subsidies from 1995 to 2021 in commodity subsidies and disaster-related payments, according to the Environmental Working Group, which collates public Department of Agriculture data. Additionally, Tester has received around $283,288 federal subsidies listed under his own name. That total includes roughly $6,000 Tester receives annually for conservation payments — used to reimburse farmers for leaving land unfarmed for ecological reasons.
Tester has been criticized for voting on major farm legislation every six years while directly benefiting from the policies and subsidies contained there.
‘As the only working dirt farmer in the U.S. Senate, Jon Tester knows firsthand the challenges Montana farmers and ranchers face, which is why he’s fighting for programs that make sure Montana farmers can continue to feed America,’ Tester’s campaign told Fox when asked about the subsidies.
Farmers who take agriculture subsidies may not run afoul of congressional ethics rules — even though officials in the federal government agencies would be breaking the law if they were in a similar situation, according to Walter Shaub, former head of the Office of Government Ethics during the Obama administration.
‘If they were executive branch employees, participating in a benefits or welfare program for farmers like this would be a crime for someone receiving payments,’ Shaub told Politico earlier this year. ‘But there are no meaningful conflict of interest laws applicable to members of Congress. They know it’s wrong, which is why they criminalized it for executive branch employees, but members of Congress have always held themselves above the law,’ said Shaub, senior ethics fellow at the Project on Government Oversight.
While the Farm Bill received wide bipartisan support, some Senators expressed concern over potential conflict of interests between members like Tester, whose net worth increased by about $5 million during his time in the U.S. Senate.
Democrat farmer Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, expressed discomfort with the bill, specifically with the ‘loopholes’ in the bill that allowed family members of farm owners to collect subsidies.
After its passage, Grassley slammed the ‘loopholes’ that allowed distant family to receive subsidies ‘without any new requirements that they actually have to work.’
‘To say I’m disappointed the bill makes more subsidies available to the wealthiest farmers and many non-farmers is a severe understatement. Especially when the impact of large farmers being allowed to manipulate the system is that young and beginning farmers face even larger hurdles,’ Grassley said in 2018 after the bill passed. ‘Today, we have a Farm Bill that is intentionally written to help the largest farmers receive unlimited subsidies from the federal government. There is no other way to characterize what the conference committee has done.’
The latest version of the Farm Bill, passed in 2018, reauthorized and extended federal farm and nutrition programs through fiscal 2023, including crop subsidies.
According to Federal Election Commission (FEC) data from 2021, Tester has a net worth between $1,768,009 and $6,695,000, which is partially made up of the value of his farmland and associated assets he owns.
Tester, who is running for re-election in red-state Montana, previously blasted ‘multi-millionaires’ who he claimed didn’t ‘understand what a hard day’s work looks like,’ dispute the Federal Election Commission (FEC) data from 2021 reporting the Senator has a net worth between $1,768,009 and $6,695,000.
Sheehy, who announced a run against Tester in June, co-founded Bridger Aerospace, an aviation company that has a fleet of aircraft that scoop water to fight wildfires and multiple contracts with the federal government. Bloomberg News reported last week that Sheehy would likely face ethics issues in Congress, but the Republican candidate plans to step down as CEO and board member to adhere to ethics rules.
‘There are genuine conflicts of interest if he is receiving funds and government contracts,’ Craig Holman of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen told Bloomberg. ‘Those are the types of issues that not only the executive branch, but Congress also deals with.’
Katie Martin, spokeswoman for Sheehy, told Fox News Digital that ‘when Tim Sheehy is elected to the U.S. Senate, he will fully comply with Senate ethics rules and standards of conduct.’
‘Tim believes his private sector business experience of founding and running companies across multiple industries to include aerospace, technology and agriculture can bring a unique perspective to Washington,’ Martin said in a statement. ‘As a fiscal conservative, Tim’s top priorities include getting spending under control, reducing waste and making government more efficient, so it runs like a business.’
Fox News’ Brandon Gillespie contributed to this report.