Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester’s 2024 reelection campaign raked in donations from TikTok lobbyists after he changed his opinion on whether the social media app should be banned, according to campaign finance records.
Tester appeared supportive of banning TikTok in Montana in mid-May, according to multiple reports, but offered conflicting comments days later in an interview published the same day TikTok sued his home state on First Amendment grounds. Prior to his initial comments, Tester’s campaign had only received $500 from a TikTok lobbyist, but later received $5,250 in donations after he shifted his stance on the app’s banning, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings.
Tester argued on May 18 that Chinese-owned TikTok deserved increased scrutiny and that Montana had the right to ban the app, adding that the company should be held accountable for potential “treasonous” actions, according to the Havre Daily News. The senator also told The Washington Post in late March that he supported an outright TikTok ban.
However, the senator told KGVO on May 22 that Montana went too far in imposing such a ban.
“So I’m not really big on banning anything. Quite honestly, ban it from government phones. I’ve got no problem with that,” said Tester. “But as far as banning it from the general public, I’ve got some issues with that.”
Less than two weeks after Tester changed his opinion on the app’s banning, Ankit Desai of And Partners LLC, who also lobbied for TikTok in 2023, donated $1,000 to the senator’s campaign, according to the FEC. Tester’s campaign later received $1,500 from Thomas in mid-September, along with donations from several other TikTok lobbyists.
Mehlman Consulting’s Paul Thornell, Alexander Perkins, Nichole Distefano and Zachary Mallove — all of whom lobbied for TikTok in 2023 — contributed to Tester’s campaign after he changed his opinion on Montana’s ban, according to the FEC. Thornell donated $500 on Sept. 28, Perkins gave $250 on Sept. 19, and Distefano and Mallove both contributed $1,000 on Sept. 14.
Tester’s reelection campaign brought in roughly $5 million during the third fundraising quarter, ending with $13 million cash on hand, according to his FEC filings.
TikTok is owned by Chinese technology company ByteDance, which maintains an internal Chinese Communist Party (CCP) committee and has been accused of allowing the CCP to access user information.
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) has been reviewing the potential national security threat that TikTok poses via its parent company ByteDance. Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have urged the Biden administration to further scrutinize the social media app due to concerns over the collection of users’ data, with many calling for an outright ban.
Tester could face Republican Tim Sheehy, a former Navy SEAL and businessman, in the 2024 general election, or GOP Rep. Matt Rosendale, who’s considering a bid.
Tester’s campaign, TikTok, Thomas, Desai, Thornell, Perkins, Distefano and Mallove did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s requests for comment.
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