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Who’s raising the big campaign bucks in Montana?

Without a doubt, Republican Sen. Steve Daines is the biggest winner in pay-to-play politics. Republican candidate for governor, Rep. Greg Gianforte, pales in comparison but is runner-up in fundraising.

We’ll look at Daines first, who, according to the Missoula Current, is hauling in money hand-over-fist:

His third-quarter take gives him $5.26 million in total funds raised for the campaign and almost $4.2 million in the bank – more than 80 times the money held by his nearest potential Democratic competitors.

A quick look at his Federal Elections Commission report shows damn near every big pharma, insurance, extractive industry, anti-choice and financial PAC giving Daines money, usually the max of $5000, for a total of $1,166,189.49 since the first of the year.

Then there are these weird PACs donating to Daines like Continuing America’s Strength and Security (CASS) Leadership PAC out of New Orleans. There’s little info on CASS although there is an affiliation with Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Republican also up for election in 2020. (Very clever that the PAC’s acronym happens to be the first four letters of the Louisiana senator’s last name). There’s the usual mix of insurance, corporate health care, and financial interests contributing to CASS, plus some booze and tobacco PACs.

It’s a little quid pro quo from Senator to Senator.

That’s how it works. After a corporate PAC has maxed out to an individual candidate, there are all these other PACs floating around they can donate to and funnel more money to candidates who are willing to do their bidding. 

On the Democratic side, Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins raised $177,488 while newcomer John Mues raised $101,394. Late entries Cora Neumann and Michael Knoles have yet to file reports (although Neumann does have a nicely produced video on social media). Red Lodge writer Jack Ballard withdrew from the campaign.

Here’s an FEC overview of money raised and spent in Montana’s U.S. Senate race.

In the U.S. House race, Democrat Kathleen Williams is ahead of Republican State Auditor Matt Rosendale by a decent margin. Williams raised $829,824 to Rosendale’s $721,016. However, Williams has $627,610 to Rosendale’s $657,371 left in the bank.    

Two Democrats, state Rep. Tom Winter and first-timer Matt Rains, have raised $197,671 and $35,972, respectively. Republican former Montana Republican Party Chair and state Rep. Debra Lamm raised $35,312. Republican Joe Dooling raised $14,297.

Don Pogreba has a post on the fate of another Republican gubernatorial candidate and current Montana Secretary of State here. (Hint: Corey Stapleton has raised $122,269.)

Here’s a snapshot of the House race FEC numbers

In the governor’s race, Gianforte holds a substantial lead, according to the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices website. The site isn’t as easy to navigate as the FEC’s — not necessarily in chronological order and lacking in description and comparison charts like the FEC — so we’ll look at what’s left in the bank for the Republican frontrunners. Gianforte has $304,524.33 for the primary and $318,895.23 for the general. Montana Attorney General Tim Fox weighs in at $122,907.02 for the primary and $111,548.91 for the general. State Sen. Al Olszewski has $81,872.48 for the primary and $16,310.00 for the general. (That’s the beauty of having a primary opponent — once contributors have maxed out in the primary, they can start throwing an equal amount of money into the general. Any money the candidate has left over from the primary can be rolled into general election coffers).

As for as the Democrats, Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney has this left in the bank: $120,581.92 for the primary and $21,635.00 for the general. Rep. Casey Schreiner is banking $14,320.62 for the primary and $9,605.00 for the general. Former state Rep. Reilly Neill has $479.12 for the primary and $0.00 for the general. (Neill faced off against Lamm in 2014 for a Montana House Seat but lost by 136 votes.)

Whitney Williams just entered the race and so there’s no data on her but Williams’ has the ability to raise some serious cash, so the next reporting period could be a shake up.

It isn’t a pretty picture unless you believe the candidate who raises the most money is the most qualified. According to the perverse interpretation of the First Amendment in the Supreme Court’s Citizens United and McCutcheon rulings, money equals free speech. The more money, the more “free speech.” And the Super PACs (read dark money) are just starting to weigh in. 

We’ll take a look at the other statewide races, known as the Tier Bs, and the three Montana Public Service Commission contests, in the near future.    

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

About the author

Pete Talbot

'Papa’ Pete Talbot is first and foremost a grandfather to five wonderful grandchildren. Like many Montanans, he has held numerous jobs over the years: film and video producer, a partner in a marketing and advertising firm, a builder and a property manager. He’s served on local and statewide Democratic Party boards. Pete has also been blogging at various sites for over a decade. Ping-pong and skiing are his favorite diversions. He enjoys bourbon.


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  • Nothing like 2018 Tester $20,442,574 and not including DNC Lawsuit monies getting the Green Party kicked off the ballot and the dark money advertisements for Rick Breckenridge even though he endorsed Rosendale to stop the use of dark money in politics. Tester raised 20 mil and Rosendale around 5 mil. We will see how this plays out.

    • It’s still early, Mark. Get back to me about this time next year and we can discuss it some more. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of skanky issues to chat about.

      • I hope so. Tester is a top democrat recipient of some of the dirtiest money there is. I am talking donations from for-profit prisons. My experience has been though that democrats, for all their virtue displaying over treatment of detained migrates by these companies, dont want to talk about Tester being on the take from these companies. The line is always “we need Tester because the republican opponent is so bad (to be clear they always are really bad)”. Problem with that of course is nobody is held accountable and our politicians become more and more corrupt. Aside from all the misdeeds by these companies at the border the idea that any politician would accept money from companies that make more money when our laws put more Americans behind bars is grotesque. That democrats dont care is appalling

        • Yeah, Tester shouldn’t be taking money from corporate prison companies with interests on the border. But keep in mind, Brandon, that it was Trump and his Republican sycophants that put these kids in cages in the first place. That weighs a little heavier.

          • That sounds like passing the buck to me. Keep in mind that democrats seemed more intent on giving lectures to their constituents about civility than doing anything about it.

              • I am on topic. You were the one who shifted to “well they put the kids there” argument and I responded. This is exactly the problem with the democratic party. They consistently rely on “well republicans are worse.” As true as that may be, that is still passing the buck. What has happened at the border is an atrocity and the democrats response has been shamefully lacking in substance but they spent plenty of time giving lectures about civility when, god forbid, Sarah Sanders was rejected from a restaurant. Frankly you sound like a Trump supporter with all the obfuscation. Are you going to cal me names next?

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