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Williams Campaign for Governor Only Raised 24% of Donations in Montana. That Has to Dramatically Improve

Photo by Don Pogreba

As we move into the serious season of primaries to determine the candidates for statewide offices in 2020, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Whitney Williams got a lot of great press for her first-quarter haul of $431,768 for her campaign. That impressive war chest comes with an important caveat, though: only 24% of her donations came from Montanans, a percentage far low than her campaign rivals and one I would suggest would be an historic low for a mainstream candidate for governor in Montana.

Thanks to excellent work from the folks at the Montana Free Press, we can see that Williams not only raised the vast majority of her campaign donations from outside of the state but that she only raised money from a small number of Montana counties.

Here’s the breakdown of candidates and the percentage of their in-state haul (again, all from the work at the Montana Free Press):


Total Raised

Percentage from Montana

Tim Fox (R)



Greg Gianforte (R)



Al Olszewski (R)



Mike Cooney (D)



Reilly Neill (D)



Casey Schreiner (D)



Whitney Williams (D)



This early in a campaign, money raised by a candidate is often used as a measure of electoral viability: the way to convince people to support and donate to your campaign is, unfortunately for some candidates, to show that you can raise money. On that front, her early haul immediately elevates Williams to the top tier of potential candidates this cycle.

For those who want to ensure that a Democrat remains in the governor’s seat in 2021, though, the fact that less than one-quarter of Williams donations came from the people who will actually vote in November has to be a huge red flag.

I’d argue that, important as total donations to a campaign are for helping evaluate a candidate’s viability may be, the source of those donations matters, too. Based on the first report, Williams simply hasn’t shown that she’s going to be able to knit together the broad coalition of Democratic, Independent, and reasonable Republican voters who have twice elected both Steve Bullock and Brian Schweitzer.

The map of Williams’s donations, one that does not show any support from Great Falls to Miles City and Outlook to Baker, will have to be something Democratic voters take into consideration when they choose the candidate best-positioned to take on Tim Fox or Greg Gianforte.

The next campaign finance report will be critical for the Williams campaign. In the next few months, her campaign will have to show that it can raise money here in Montana.

They’ve demonstrated that they can raise money from former Republican members of Congress like Susan Molinari and actors, directors, and producers from Hollywood. Useful and deserved as those donations may be, the real test is whether the next report will show campaign contributions from Republicans from Dillon and pulse farmers from Plentywood.

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

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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  • Well you aren’t afraid to go for the long shot Larry, are you?

    My beef with Schreiner is that in Yellowstone County we have a local radio station sponsoring metal detectors in schools, trying to keep our schools safe, and Schreiner voted against putting in school Marshals.

    Not the kind of Gov we need.

    • They’re not trying to set policy, other than to control people coming into our schools, and several school districts now have metal detectors that everyone goes through to keep guns out of the schools thanks to these guys. The cost to the schools was nothing – free.

      It was HB567 that would have had more security in schools, and Schreiner voted against it.

      We have a meth epidemic here, and where we used to maybe have a shooting somewhere in town every other month 30 years ago it’s now become a daily occurence almost. The more protection the kids have the better.

      • Who staffs the metal detectors? That seems like a cost to schools.

        Do you have any idea how many people come in and out of a school in a day?

        And HB567 wouldn’t have brought more security into schools. It was a dangerous, ill-conceived plan opposed by teachers and parents.

  • I was a bit surprised at Don Pogreba’s column, focusing on the horse-race for Governor, instead of the politics. In a race among the richest guy in Congress( Gianforte), a sitting politician darling of the National right-wing funding machine (Fox), a sitting politician close to the state’s movers and shakers (Cooney), and a native Montana business woman with significant funding from “Hollywood types” (Williams)… let’s just jump on the last one? It’s not an irrelevant point, but the field is pretty rich… why make your column just a hatchet job? If you don’t like her politics (again a rich and far more important field among these contestants), just say so.

    • Thanks for the comment, Chic Fitts, though I find myself confused about the distinction between “politics” and the “horse race.”

      I think both Mr. Fox and Mr. Gianforte would take issue with your contention that I have been unfairly critical of Williams. A quick perusal of the search function will show that I have been critically covering both men for years.

      This post is far from a “hatchet job.” I think it’s a legitimate concern. Of course I’ll enthusiastically support Ms. Williams if she wins the nomination–and I haven’t even decided who I am supporting in the primary yet–but she absolutely needs to show that she can reach regular Montanans. This campaign report doesn’t show that.

      As for “her politics,” I’m not sure what they are. I’ve received dozens of e-mails asking for money and general statements about values, but no clear policy. Her web site is still an ask for money and a bio. No issues, no policy statements.

      Her opponents in this primary race have records of their votes and the positions they’ve taken. It’s not enough that Ms. Williams has raised a lot of money; it’s time for her campaign to show that she has a policy vision for the state.

    • from what i’ve seen, “her politics” thus far have consisted of regurgitated soundbites about public lands and prescription drug prices. i’m also going to question the “native montanan” comment as 1) she’s white, and that term is lazy and inaccurate, and 2) she was born in maryland.

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