(MTN News-HELENA)  In 2015, U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., raised more than 10 times the money of his Democratic opponent, Denise Juneau – but ended the year with just three times as much money in his campaign account, sometimes spending it faster than he took it in.

Last year, Zinke’s campaign spent $2.35 million of the $2.85 million he raised, showering money on a wide array of fundraising consultants, direct-mail outfits and valuable mass lists of fundraising targets.

In fact, during the final quarter of 2015, Zinke reported spending slightly more money than he raised, with $604,000 of campaign spending compared to $601,000 coming in the door.

The first-term congressman ended the year with $744,000 in his re-election campaign account.

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Juneau, who started her campaign in early November, finished 2015 with $240,000 in the bank (she raised $264,000 and spent only $24,000 during the final two months of the year).

University of Montana political scientist Robert Saldin said Wednesday that Zinke’s “shock and awe” approach to fundraising accomplishes two things: It signals that he’s a strong incumbent and a serious political player, and creates a broad donor-base if he runs for higher office – like the U.S. Senate.

“Laying the groundwork now will set him up nicely for future cycles, in that he’ll have already established a deep and widespread base of donors that he can go back to,” Saldin told MTN News. “Paying a lot now means he won’t have to pay as much in the future.”

The average U.S. congressman raises $2 million for a campaign, so Zinke has far surpassed that amount – 10 months before the election, Saldin noted.

A spokeswoman for Zinke said he’s built a huge base of grassroots supporters, both in Montana and around the country.

“Zinke literally has tens of thousands of supporters, many of whom are low-dollar donors who chip in a few bucks here and there, because they believe in Zinke’s message of economic opportunity, freedom and service to country,” said Heather Graham.

Juneau’s campaign, however, called Zinke’s fundraising a “smoke and mirrors scheme” designed to make him look like a stronger candidate than he is.

The Zinke campaign has built a fundraising base with the help of an extensive, national direct-mail operation.

It paid nearly $600,000 to a single firm, Direct Support Services of Washington, D.C., for postage and data processing, and $343,500 to Consolidated Mailing Services of Sterling, Va., for printing costs.

His campaign also has spent at least $65,000 purchasing or renting various lists, which likely are names of people who can be targeted for fundraising mailers or calls.

That investment in fundraising has paid off for Zinke, both in terms of volume and depth of donors:

  • He took in $1.3 million last year from more than 1,000 individual donors giving at least $200 each, the threshold at which their names must be reported. Donors came from all 50 states.

Montanans contributed about $280,000 of this money, or 21 percent. Other high-dollar states include Texas (11 percent), California (9.5 percent) and New York (8.5 percent).

  • He collected $1 million from “non-itemized” donors, who are those giving less than $200. This pool includes at least 5,000 separate donors – and probably a lot more.
  • Zinke collected a relatively small amount from political action committees: $301,000, or 11 percent of his total fundraising take.

Juneau, the state superintendent of public instruction, got off to a relatively quick start in fundraising, including a substantial take from individual Montanans.

Campaign manager Lauren Caldwell said Juneau is backed by “everyday Montanans who believe in her campaign,” while Zinke is financed by “people who every day live in some other state than Montana.”

Caldwell said 85 percent of Juneau’s donors so far are from Montana.

About 60 percent of Juneau’s itemized individual total of $166,500 came from Montanans. The rest of her $264,000 of campaign money was split among non-itemized individual donations ($51,500) and political action committees ($46,000).

Unlike Zinke, Juneau spent very little of the money that she’s raised so far. Her biggest, single expense was $6,000 paid to a political research firm in Clarksburg, Md.