Let’s all be as honest as we can here: the only reason that Greg Gianforte, an inexperienced, humorless, dour bigot is a leading candidate for office in Montana is because he has money. A lot of it. There are Republicans who are far more polished politicians, far more experienced legislators, and far more decent human beings, but few can compete with the big bucks Greg brings to the table. Knowing, I think, his limitations and his one strength, the Gianforte campaign for Congress wants everyone to believe that it will have limitless money to spend in the upcoming special election.
And MTN News has helped Gianforte get that message out, reporting twice in the last week that Gianforte has raised major cash. On February 28, KPAX reported that the Gianforte campaign claimed to have raised $825,000 from 1,500 donors. Just a week later, KBZK reports that Gianforte has raised over one million dollars, this time from 2,000 donors.
There are several seemingly obvious questions about the stories. The first is simple: how in the world does MTN justify two stories about Gianforte’s fundraising within a week? The second is that, given that both stories only cite Gianforte’s campaign manager as evidence for the claims, why don’t either of the stories go into detail about the sources of those donations? Given that Mr. Gianforte spent six million dollars of his own money in a failed bid for the governor’s chair, doesn’t it seem likely that much of that million he’s raised came in the form of a check he wrote to his own campaign? Finally, if real, where did the Gianforte money come from? Is he raising from inside Montana? Out of state? Neither story provides any context about the large sums.
And that detail is hugely significant as Republicans gather to select their nominee. There’s a widespread perception among both Democrats and Republicans that the GOP is doing everything it can to ensure that Gianforte is chosen, largely because he will have the money to finance a campaign. Both MTN stories gave the Gianforte campaign an unchallenged and unvetted opportunity to assert huge momentum in the form of people so enthusiastic that they’re already donating to his campaign. That certainly helps push the other establishment GOP candidates—who seem increasingly frustrated with Mr. Gianforte—to the side. I certainly have no affection for the likes of Ken Miller or Ed Walker, but they have to be pretty damn frustrated about having to pay $1,700 to enter a race they’re not really being given much chance of winning.
In the end, I don’t believe the Gianforte campaign. While he may have a million dollars in the bank, he certainly didn’t raise it in any meaningful way from small, individual contributors. If you take the Gianforte people at their word, the average donation for that first $825,000 was $550. That certainly isn’t coming from enthusiastic, individual donors in Montana.
Let’s pretend for a minute that the Gianforte campaign is telling the truth: that, despite not having been officially selected as his party’s nominee for Congress and despite having lost the gubernatorial race that he tried to buy, he has somehow convinced two thousand people to pony up over $500 each. It’s awfully hard to believe that the people who are making the donations of that size expect Mr. Gianforte to represent average Montanans who struggle from paycheck to paycheck. The kind of people who’d give $500 to a person like Greg Gianforte expect that, just like Gianforte believes he can buy Montana voters, they can buy themselves a Congressman.
As for the stories, they’re not great reporting and worse yet, they suggest a state of the race that just might not be true. Given the number of times Mr. Gianforte lied to the Montana press and public during his last campaign, I’d hope the press would remember to be more critical about stories come from his press releases in the future.