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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Voting Record Tug-of-War in Montana

Montana Democrats and Sen. Burns contradict each other. Both are right, up to a point.


The Montana Democratic Party and Republican Senator Conrad Burns can agree on little, and particularly not on the meaning of his voting record. They say he voted against armor for humvees in Iraq, he says he voted for it. He says he voted for increased veterans’ benefits, they say he voted against it. In each case both are right, with qualifications.

The ad battle shows how a voting record can be twisted one way or another, to help or harm a candidate.


On August 2 the Montana Democratic Party released two statewide ads, the thirty-second TV ad “Veterans” and the sixty-second radio ad “Know Better.” On the same day, incumbent Conrad Burns released “New Low,” a sixty-second radio ad. Both rely on veterans to spread contradictory messages concerning Burns’ record on supplying body armor for the military and veteran’s benefits.

Montana Democratic Party Ad:

Jed Fitch (veteran): We would patrol the streets of Iraq every day. Bombs would go off. Bullets would fly by.

Announcer: With our troops under attack, Conrad Burns voted against funding for more armored vehicles in Iraq.

William Hunt (veteran): Conrad Burns voted against billions for health care…

Ed Tinsley (veteran): … and against increasing the death benefit for soldiers.

Announcer: While Burns voted against better pay and health benefits for the National Guard, he’s voted himself a pay raise four times.

Announcer: Tell Conrad Burns our troops deserve better. The Montana Democratic Party is responsible for the content of this ad.

(On screen: Call Sen. Burns; 406-449-5401; Paid For By The Montana Democratic Party,www.MontanaDemocrats.org, And Not Authorized By Any Candidate Or Candidate’s Committee)


Conrad Burns Ad:
“A New Low”

Conrad Burns: This is Sen. Conrad Burns. After falsely attacking me for over a year, Jon Tester’s liberal allies are now deceiving veterans about my record. But Montana veterans have something to say about that.

Aaron Andrade: Jon Tester’s allies have hit a new low. This is Aaron Andrade. I was an Army specialist in Iraq. Conrad Burns voted for $610 million dollars in new armor for vehicles — and for improved body armor that saved my life.

Conrad Burns: Mark Roedel, retired Army master sergeant and Iraq veteran:

Mark Roedel: Conrad increased the death benefit to $100,000 to protect families like mine.

Conrad Burns: Joe Upshaw is a retired U.S. Army colonel and a World War II veteran.

Joe Upshaw: Sen. Burns strengthened the VA, increasing funding by almost 50 percent in just the past few years, improving care and benefits for 100,000 Montana veterans. Because Conrad is one of us.

Conrad Burns: I’m Conrad Burns, candidate for U.S. Senate, and I approved this message, because Jon Tester’s liberal allies should tell the truth about my service to those who serve us.

Paid for by Friends of Conrad Burns 2006.

Money for Armor

In “Veterans,” the Montana Democratic Party says that “Conrad Burns voted against funding for more armored vehicles in Iraq.” Yet in “New Low,” the Burns campaign says that “Burns voted for $610 million in new armor for vehicles – and for improved body armor.” So who is telling the truth?  Both are, up to a point.

It is true that Burns voted on Oct. 5, 2005 against an amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2006 that would have increased by over $360 million the amount appropriated for armored vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan. The measure was sponsored by Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana and some fellow Democrats, but opposed mainly by Republicans on grounds that it was a pointless gesture. Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens of Alaska said during debate that Congress already had provided as much money for “uparmoring” military vehicles as could practically be spent. “We are using every bit of capacity the system has,” he said.

It is also true that earlier Burns had voted for the Pentagon authorization bill for fiscal year 2005, and that measure contained (among many other things) authorization for $610 million for uparmored Humvess and add-on armor. So Burns can argue that he voted for more armor before he voted against it.

Veteran Benefits

While the Democratic ads attack Burns for votes “against veterans,” the Burns ad features veteran Mark Roedel saying that Burns “increased the death benefit to $100,000 to protect families.”

It’s true that Burns voted on Dec. 25, 2005 for the Department of Defense Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2006, which did contain (among much else) an increase in the military death benefit to $100,000 for those families who lost a member on active duty. The vote also made this benefit retroactive to October 7, 2001.

However, Burns earlier tried unsuccessfully to restrict that benefit only to the families of those who died in combat or of combat-related injuries. He voted on April 13, 2005 against an amendment sponsored by Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts to provide the death benefit to include any member of the military who dies on active duty, not just those who die in combat or from combat-related injuries, as  Republicans had originally proposed.  Burns didn’t explain his vote, but Sen. Ted Stevens again voiced the Republican dissent on the Senate floor:

Stevens: We do believe there ought to be a distinction. The Senator’s [Kerry’s] amendment will mean, if someone right here in this district while in uniform drinks too much and dies while driving home, they are going to get this gratuity, the same gratuity the fallen hero should get. It is wrong to cover anyone in uniform with this allowance – it should go to those related to combat and in combat.

Despite this objection, the amendment passed comfortably. And though it ultimately failed to become law as part of the emergency supplemental appropriations bill to which it was initially attached, the Kerry provision later was included in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006, which Burns did vote for along with everything else in it. So Burns initially supported a $100,000 benefit but only for survivors of those who died from combat-related causes, not for all active-duty fatalities.

Increasing Pay?

Montana Democratic Party Ad:
“Know Better”

Veteran #1: My family believes in service.

Veteran #2: My father served in the Korean War.

Veteran #3: Service means that you give something back to your country.

Veteran #4: I served in the U. S. Army in World War II.

Veteran #3: I was in the Army National Guard in Montana.

Veteran#1: I served in Iraq.

Announcer: Montana veterans on service and Conrad Burns.

Veteran #3: Conrad Burns has been a disappointment.

Veteran #4: Voted against the veterans.

Veteran #1: He’s voted against veterans’ benefits dozens of times. I don’t have health care. The VA is my health care system. Veterans aren’t asking for a handout, they’re asking for what they bargained for when they joined, when they volunteered.

Announcer: Conrad Burns is in Washington, voting against our troops in the field and against our veterans. Burns voted against more armored vehicles in Iraq, and time and time again against better funding for veterans’ health care.

Veteran #2: Conrad Burns was a Marine, and he should know better.

Announcer: Call. Tell Burns our troops and veterans deserve better.

Paid for by the Montana Democratic Party, www.MontanaDemocrats.org, and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee. The Montana Democratic Party is responsible for the content of this ad.

The Montana Democratic Party ad “Veterans” also attacks Conrad Burns for voting to increase his own pay four times. We find the votes cited with the ad to accurate, though one of them does warrant clarification. It is also important to remember that Members of Congress no longer need to vote to increase their pay “Cost of living adjustments” are scheduled and members of Congress can only vote to not accept them. Conrad Burns voted to kill amendments that would have rejected these salary increases in 20012002, and 2003, effectively voting to allow pay raises to go into effect. Another vote cited by the Montana Democratic Party as a vote for a pay increase deserves some attention. In 1991 Conrad Burns voted on an amendment that would increase Senator’s pay so that it was equal to members of the House, while concomitantly extending a ban on accepting outside honoraria to members of the Senate. So while it was a vote for a pay increase it was also a vote to cease the practice of senators taking thousands of dollars in fees from lobbying groups and other organizations.

Votes Against Veterans?

Near the end of a “New Low,” veteran Joe Upshaw says that Burns strengthened the VA, “increasing funding by almost 50 per cent in just the past few years.” While the VA’s budget has indeed increased by about 48.5 per cent since 2001, this should not be taken as a sign that Burns is beloved by all veterans. According to Project Vote Smart, in 2005 the Disabled American Veterans reported that Burns voted in their interests 33 per cent of the time and zero per cent of the time in 2004. The Retired Enlisted Association reported that in 2004, on the Congressional votes they deemed most important, Burns voted their preferred position zero per cent of the time. Burns did better with AMVETS, which says he voted with them three out of four times last year on their “key votes.”

– by James Ficaro


Watch Montana Democratic Party Ad: “Veterans”

Hear Montana Democratic Party Ad: “Know Better”Hear Conrad Burns’ Ad: “New Low”


U.S. Senate, 109th Congress, 1st Session. Senate Vote No. 248.

U.S. Senate, 108th Congress, 2nd Session. Senate Vote No. 146.

U.S. Senate, 109th Congress, 1st Session. Senate Vote No. 366.

Daggett, Stephen.  “Defense: Authorization and Appropriations,” CRS Report for Congress, 15 July 2005

U.S. Senate, 108th Congress, 1st Session. Senate Vote No. 406.

U.S. Senate, 107th Congress, 2nd Session. Senate Vote No. 242.

U.S. Senate, 107th Congress, 1st Session. Senate Vote No. 360.

U.S. Senate, 102nd Congress, 1st Session. Senate Vote No. 133.