BY MIKE DENNISON
While Greg Gianforte has plenty of personal wealth to finance his second run for Montana governor, so far he’s accumulated 2020’s biggest gubernatorial campaign bankroll the old-fashioned way: From hundreds of Montana donors.
Gianforte listed nearly 3,000 donations from Montanans through the end of last year totaling $1.07 million, or 77 percent of his money from contributions.
His opponents in the Republican primary, Attorney General Tim Fox and state Sen. Al Olszewski of Kalispell, also are getting the vast majority of their campaign funds from Montanans – 83 percent for Fox and 97 percent for Olszewski.
But Gianforte, the state’s U.S. House member, simply has garnered more Montana donors willing to give larger amounts, giving him a substantial lead in fundraising for this pivotal race.
He’s averaging $358 per Montana donation, compared to $204 for both Fox and Olzsewski.
Gianforte lost the 2016 governor’s race to Gov. Steve Bullock, but won the state’s congressional seat in a special election in 2017, after then-Rep. Ryan Zinke was chosen as Donald Trump’s Interior secretary.
This year, Bullock can’t run for re-election because of term limits. The Republican winner of the June 2 primary will attempt to end a 16-year run for Montana Democrats in the governor’s office.
Three Democrats are competing for their party’s nomination.
Through December, Gianforte had raised $1.44 million for his 2020 gubernatorial campaign, including a $50,000 loan from his own pocket. Fox had raised a respectable $566,000 and Olszewski clocked in with $229,000.
MTN News examined the data donor base for each candidate, as reported to the state commissioner of political practices. Here’s a closer look at the source of each Republican’s campaign money:
Gianforte has donors from 41 states, including Montana. After Montana, his most money from any one state is $59,000 from California, or 5.5 percent of his total.
Fox also has a wide base of funders, from 35 states, but about $470,000 of his total contributions, or 83 percent, are from Montana. His biggest non-Montana donor pool is from Texans, who gave him $17,000, or 3 percent of his total.
Olszewski is relying almost entirely on Montanans for his campaign money, having raised only $4,700 from a dozen out-of-state donors.
· Gianforte’s total includes a $50,000 loan from himself, and he has reported spending another $27,000 of his own money on campaign expenses. Still, so far, that’s a far cry from his 2016 run for governor, when he dumped $6 million of his family fortune into the campaign.
Yet he’s not the only GOP candidate with some significant self-funding. Olszewski, an orthopedic surgeon, has put $102,000 of his own money into his campaign, or almost half his total, and spent another $16,500 on campaign expenses.
Fox hasn’t put any of his own funds into his campaign so far.
· Gianforte has accepted the most money from political-action committees, or PACs – at least $19,000 – and Fox has about $11,000 from PACs. Olszewski hasn’t taken any PAC money.
· When it come to the employment sector of donors, the biggest group is not employed at all: Retirees. Gianforte has received at least $529,000 from retirees, or 38 percent of his donations; Fox has $181,000, or 32 percent of his total; and Olszewski has $78,000, a full 60 percent of his donations.
Business owners and executives also have poured money into Gianforte’s campaign – at least $200,000 – but they make up a sizable chunk of Fox’s donors, too, with at least $70,000.
Gianforte also has received about $10,000 from fellow members of Congress, while Fox had $37,000 from fellow attorneys.
· When it comes to Montana sources of the candidates’ money, Gianforte is pretty much pounding the opposition in all major Montana cities – except Helena (where Fox lives) and Kalispell (where Olszewski lives).
In Bozeman and Gallatin County, the fastest-growing area of the state and Gianforte’s hometown, he has raised at least $283,000 – almost 10 times the $31,000 taken in by Fox and 135 times the $2,100 raised by Olszewski.
Fox outraised everyone in Helena, with $95,000 to Gianforte’s $52,000 and Olszewski’s $3,500.