Senator Conrad Burns Papers, 1989-2006

Overview of the Collection

Burns, Conrad
Senator Conrad Burns Papers
1989-2006 (inclusive)
1604 boxes
Collection Number
Republican senator for Montana, 1989-2006. The collection consists of the collected papers of the Senator’s career representing Montana in the United States Senate. They span the years from 1989 to 2006, or the 101st to the 109th Congressional Sessions. The collection has items such as correspondence to the Senator from Constituents, drafts and correspondence related to legislation he worked on, press clips and releases, administration items relate to his office and staff, and various reports related to his work. It also contains audiovisual material in the form of photos, VHS and cassette tapes.
Montana State University Library, Merrill G. Burlingame Special Collections
Montana State University-Bozeman Library
Merrill G Burlingame Special Collections
P.O. Box 173320
Bozeman, MT
Telephone: 4069944242
Fax: 4069942851
Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research.


Biographical NoteReturn to Top

Conrad Burns was the Republican Senator for Montana from 1989 to 2006. He won his senate seat from John Melcher in the 1988 election, and in 1994 his re-election win was the first for a Republican Senator. He continued to serve in the senate until the 2006 election, which he lost to Jon Tester. His loss was attributed to his acceptance of campaign funds from Jack Abramoff, but Senator Burns and his staff denied this link and any wrongdoing. He was originally from Missouri (born in Gallatin, Missouri on January 25, 1935), and attended the University of Missouri for a few years before enlisting in the Marine Corps, serving from 1955-57. After leaving the Marines, he worked for T.W.A. Airlines, Ozark Airlines and for Polled Herford Magazine for a number of years before permanently moving to Montana in 1968. His first career in Montana was as a livestock auctioneer in Billings, before creating a network of agricultural news radio and television stations known as Northern Ag Network which he oversaw until 1985. At which time he sold the network and decided to venture into politics, first as Yellowstone County Commissioner in the 1986 election, which he won. He served as commissioner for two years before running for Senate against Melcher in 1988. As a senator, he served on the Commerce committee, chairing its subcommittee on communications and also on the Appropriations Committee, a post he used to bring federal dollars and projects to the state of Montana. One of his most well-known, and in his opinion, most important act while in Congress was his contribution to the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Senator Burns also focused on issues important to the state such as access to rural lands, and federal land management. After losing the 2006 election, Senator Burns returned to live in Billings, Montana and worked as a lobbyist and oversaw his auction business. He also founded the company Rural Solutions Corporation. Senator Burns passed away in April 2016 from complications related to a stroke. (Sources: Senator Burns Wikipedia page and his New York Times obituary)

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

This collection covers the span of Senator Burns time in office and the various legislative issues he worked on, as well information on how he interacted with his constituents, and also administrative information.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Preferred Citation

[Name of document or photograph], [Year if available], [Collection title], Box [Box number], Folder [Folder number], Merrill G. Burlingame Special Collections, Montana State University.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top


The collection is arranged into five series: 1. Correspondence (chronological, 2. Legislation (chronological), 3. Office (chronological), 4. Press(chronological) and 5. Audiovisual (chronological) Each series is arranged in chronological order by Congressional Session. The term refers to “The annual series of meetings of a Congress is called a session. Each Congress generally has two sessions, based on the constitutional mandate that Congress assemble at least once a year. In addition, a meeting of one or both houses is a session. And the Senate and House of Representatives is said to be in session on any particular day when it is meeting.” ( The session covers two years, and is numbered. Senator Burns was in office from 1989 to 2006, which spanned the 101st to 109th Congressional Sessions. Each series is ordered by session starting from the 101st up through to the conclusion of his term. In some cases, boxes span multiple sessions (such as 101st to 105th). These boxes were not broken up, but instead are kept intact according to the original order, and the multiple session boxes come after the last single session box.

Acquisition Information

This collection was acquired from Senator Conrad Burns in 2007. It was a result of a long-term agreement between Senator Burns and Montana State University that MSU would be the repository for his papers. The deed of gift was signed in 2007 after Senator Burns left office, and the collection was donated.

Processing Note

Before the collection arrived at MSU, it was inventoried by History Associates Inc. while it was still in the custody of the Senator and his staff. This inventory listed each box in the collection, along with its contents, and it's accession number and date range. Apart from accession number, there was no order imposed upon the pallets, nor was it strictly divided by contents. When MSU received this collection, it was divided onto about 30 pallets. The inventory was reviewed towards the beginning of the project to aid in determining the contents of it and how the collection might be divided by series. The boxes were then physically grouped together by those five broad series, and in some cases further sub-series and put into a chronological order, but the contents themselves were mainly kept intact as orginally ordered by the Senator's staff. During prcoessing, a number of boxes were discarded because they were seen as having low research value, and there was a limited amound of storage space available. All items were transferred into acid-free boxes. This collection was processed between February 2018 and June 2020.

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

1:  Correspondence, 1989-2006Return to Top

668 boxes

This series holds the correspondence sent to Senator Burns. It is divided into four sub-series: 1. Constituent Correspondence; 2. Non-constituent; 3. VIP Constituent and 4. Ballots. The correspondence consists of items sent to the Senator, and also mailed out by him or his staff.

All boxes are arranged by chronological order by congressional session. Senator Burns was in office from the 101st to the 109th Congressional Sessions. When a box spans multiple congressional sessions, it is left intact. The items within the series have not been put into order by day or month.>
Description Dates
1: Constituent Correspondence
628 boxes
This series contains letters written to the Senator by constituents throughout his term in office. The letters contain discussions of issues important to the writers such as impending legislation, contemporary events such as elections, and concerns they have with Montana and the wider world. Each letter usually has the response to the letter stapled to it, although not every letter received a response. The sub-series is arranged in chronological order by congressional session, but not by topic. Each letter has a log sheet identifying the topic or topics discussed. The letters are organized not by topic or date, but by a log number system devised by the Senator’s office.
This sub-series is arranged by congressional session. The Congressional Sessions are organized as follows:
101st Congressional Session: Boxes 1-52
102nd Congressional Session: Boxes 53-126
103rd Congressional Session: Boxes 127-263
104th Congressional Session: Boxes 264-377
105th Congressional Session: Boxes 378-464
106th Congressional Session Boxes 465-540
107th Congressional Session Boxes 541-580
108th Congressional Session boxes 581-593
109th Congressional Session Boxes 594-599
Note: The items are only in broad order by year, not by month or day. Nor are they arranged by subject.
2: Non-Constituent Correspondence
29 boxes
Thank you notes, Executive Correspondence, and other correspondence identified and organized by staff. Unlike Constituent Correspondence, this sub-series has folder titles instead of log numbers.
Arranged by Congressional Session
3: VIP Constituent Correspondence
10 boxes
Correspondence from Individuals identified as VIPs by Senator’s staff in original inventory. As with constituent correspondence, each letter has a log sheet and log number attached to it.
The sub-series is arranged by congressional session.
4: Ballots
1 box
Consists of a sample of response ballots sent to the Senator’s office regarding issues such as Social Security, the Wilderness Bill, and others. Ballots are multiple copies of one statement, the only difference being the signature of each person who signed, and additional comments in places. Ballots were sampled from a larger number at random.
This sub-series is arranged by subject of ballots (such as healthcare or wilderness bill)

2:  Legislation, 1989-2006Return to Top

628 boxes

All documents describing the legislation Senator Burns worked on during his career-including drafts, research and related memos and correspondence. Legislation is divided into seven sub-series: Voting Records, Legislative Correspondence, Committee Files, Congressional Profile/ Briefing Books, State Files, Staff Files, and Subject Files. Subject Files is the largest sub-series, and is organized chronologically by congressional session, but it is not yet grouped by specific subjects. For example, not all of healthcare legislation is grouped together. This organization was due to time constraints and idea that it is better to first put things in broad chronological order, then work from there to identify subjects and group accordingly). This is the same arrangement for other series such as Staff Files, which is organized alphabetically by the last name of the Staff member attached to the box, taken from the inventory inside or written on the side of the box.
Note: Though a folder list is available for all boxes, the order of the folders might not match what is listed in the box. And though the boxes were reviewed and compared to the initial inventory, some may be incomplete, and have items not listed. Also, not every item in legislation has been re-foldered.

This series contains the following sub-series: 1.Legislative Correspondence, 2. Voting Records, 3. Briefing Books/Congressional Session, 4. Committee Files, 5. Staff files, 6. State Files and 7. Subject Files.
All series are arranged chronologically, with the exception of Staff Files, which is arranged by last name
Description Dates
1: Legislative Correspondence
8 Boxes
Correspondence between the Senator, his staff and others regarding legislation (Dear Colleague Letters, for example)
Items are arranged by congressional session
2: Voting Records
10 boxes
This sub-series contains the documents outlining the Senator’s voting record during his time in office.
Arranged by congressional session
3: Briefing Books/Congressional Profile
4 Boxes
Consists of briefing books used by the senator and his staff on various subjects
Arranged by congressional session
4: Committee Files
1 box
Consists of files related to the Senator’s work on various committees as identified in their folder title.
5: Staff Files
65 boxes
Files pertaining to legislative assistants of Senator Burns and their respective expertise (such as Taxes, Environment, Health and so on). A folder level inventory is available, but some items in box may not be listed.
Sub-series is organized alphabetically by staff member’s last name.
6: State Files
58 boxes
Files from the Senator’s field offices in Montana (Bozeman, Missoula, Great Falls, Kalispell)
Arranged by Congressional Session
7: Subject Files
482 boxes
Contains files devoted to a specific legislative subject such as Environment or Health. Documents in sub-series consists of drafts and communications for legislation, research materials. Organized by congressional session, but not broken down by specific subject. A folder level inventory is available, but some items in box may not be listed.
Arranged by congressional session

3:  Office, 1989-2006Return to Top

146 boxes

This series consists of administrative materials, such as the Senator’s daily schedule, and office procedures manuals. There are four sub-series: 1.Schedules, 2. Administration, 3. Events and 4. Campaign

Description Dates
1: Schedules
71 boxes
These boxes contain the Senator's daily schedules from his time in office
The boxes are arranged first by congressional session, then by year and month.
2: Administration
56 boxes
Files related to the daily running of the Senator’s office such as office procedure manuals.
Arranged by congressional session
3: Events
18 boxes
Files detailing events organized and attended by senator Burns such as the Montana Women’s Conference, or events organized by the Burns office and campaign
Arranged by congressional session
4: Campaign
1 box
This is a single box of files related to the Senator’s various campaigns.

4:  Press, 1989-2006Return to Top

106 boxes

This series consists of press clippings about Senator Burns, and the issues he worked on/was interested in as collected by his staff. It has four sub-series: 1. Press Clippings, 2. Press Files, 3. Press Releases and 4. Speeches

This series is arranged in chronological order
Description Dates
1: Press Clippings>
87 boxes
Collection of press clippings from throughout his time in office, from various Montana Newspapers-both original clippings and copies. It also contains clippings of articles written by and about Senator Burns, on a wide variety of subjects. Note: The last four boxes in this series consists of unsorted clippings from various years.
Arranged chronologically by year, except when noted otherwise: unsorted
2: Press Files
14 Boxes
Press clippings organized by subject by the Senator’s staff (they were left in their original order and folders to preserve this). This sub-series also consists of media surveys about Senator Burns.
Arranged chronologically
3: Press Releases
4 boxes
Documents complied by the Senator's Press Office and released to the public
4: Speeches
1 box
This box holds some of the speeches given by Senator Burns that were pulled from other boxes in press. It doesn't contain all of the speeches in his career, or in the collection, but what has been found so far.

5:  Audiovisual, 1989-2006Return to Top

51 boxes

This series consists of various VHS tapes, betacam and betamax tapes, cassettes, DVDs and photos. Their contents range from interviews with the Senator, TV ads/spots featuring him, as well as photos from various events, and more.
Note: The boxes in this sub-series have been arranged by congressional session, but have otherwise not been broken-up. Also, due to lack of equipment, I have not been able to test these items to see if they still function.

Boxes in this series are arranged chronologically by congressional session

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top