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Jon Tester Faces Opposition From Montana Voters On Swipe Fees

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JON TESTER
In this April 27, 2010 file photo, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., questions Goldman Sachs chairman and chief executive officer Lloyd Blankfein before the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations on Capitol Hill in Washington. | AP File Photo

WASHINGTON -- As the Senate prepares to vote Wednesday on Jon Tester's amendment to delay swipe fee reforms, the junior senator from Montana faces division among his colleagues and opposition from his home state, where voters overwhelmingly support swipe fee reform.

Tester is sponsoring an amendment to delay the implementation of regulations on the fees banks can charge merchants for swiping debit and credit cards. These swipe fees are a multi-billion dollar industry -- at a major cost to merchants, including mom-and-pop shops and other small businesses.

But Tester took the banks' side in the lobbyist-driven battle with merchants, against fellow Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.). Populist voters in Montana are not pleased.

Three-quarters of Montana voters support the swipe fee reform that Tester is trying to delay, according to a retailer-commissioned poll that was released Monday. Within that 75 percent are some major supporters of reform: 54 percent said they would fight to protect it, while 38 percent said they may vote against Tester over his support for the delay. (He's up for reelection in 2012.)

When HuffPost asked Tester's office for a comment on the polling, spokesman Aaron Murphy said he would not comment on a poll "funded and shopped" by a special interest. Murphy said he is not aware of any independent polls in the state -- or polls funded by groups that support Tester's position.

Retailers and Wall Street have been advertising heavily in Montana, prompting criticism from Republican operative Karl Rove when he appeared on a local radio show in the state in April.

Rove dinged the station he was on for running a bank-sponsored ad in support of Tester. The show, "Voices of Montana," was guest-hosted that day by political consultant to Montana Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg, who is Tester's opponent in the 2012 Senate contest. Tester announced Friday he had raised $1.16 million in the first quarter of 2011 -- more than a dollar for every man, woman and child in the Big Sky State. Rehberg pulled in a measly $580,000.

On the show, Rove interrupted his own routine political analysis with some off-the-cuff griping about the ad he'd heard while he was on hold. Tester didn’t deserve the praise from Wall Street, Rove said, because he was a Johnny-come-lately on the issue. But a few seconds later, Rove and the host took a curious turn and blasted Tester for being in the pocket of Wall Street.

The host noted that Tester is "literally doing the bidding for the 1 percent, the biggest banks in the world" and said, "We'll see how perhaps handsomely rewarded [Tester] may have been by Wall Street, by the big banks, for backing this measure."

Rove, who knows more about how corporate rewards are distributed, corrected the host: "Well look, he's already been rewarded; they're underwriting these radio ads," said Rove.

Local newspapers have pointed out Tester's Wall Street ties in articles about his support for the reform delay amendment, with headlines like "Tester Sticks With Banks on Debit Card Swipe-Fee Issue" in the Missoulian.

Tester has been backpedaling all year on the move to delay swipe fee reform, which he originally hoped to push back by two years. He later switched his amendment to a 15-month delay, and then reduced the time period once again. The Senate will vote at 2 p.m. on Wednesday on an amendment that would delay reforms by only one year.

Tester also made a risky choice in the legislative vehicle for the measure, which is being tied a bill that is unlikely to pass the House of Representatives -- even if Tester is able to get 60 votes for his amendment.

"Well, we haven't had a lot of luck passing bills in both chambers," Durbin said with a smile on Tuesday.

Correction: An earlier version of this report stated the interview with Rove on "Voices of Montana" was hosted by a consultant to state Rep. Danny Rehberg. The show is hosted by Aaron Flint, who is not a consultant to Rehberg, but was guest-hosted that day by Rehberg campaign manager Erik Iverson.

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