Montana U.S. House candidates Greg Gianforte, Rob Quist, Mark Wicks

HELENA – Outside political groups so far have spent $4.5 million to influence Montana’s special congressional race – and the vast majority of that money is favoring Republican Greg Gianforte.

As of Thursday, nine groups had spent nearly $3.9 million on TV and radio ads, direct mail, telephone calls and other campaign items promoting Gianforte or attacking his Democratic rival, Rob Quist.

Only three groups are spending on behalf of Quist, and their total was $632,000 – less than one-sixth the amount of money spent for Gianforte.

Gianforte, Quist and Libertarian Mark Wicks are competing for Montana’s open congressional seat in a special election May 25.

Story continues below

The race, to fill the seat vacated by Republican Ryan Zinke in March, has drawn national attention. Zinke resigned to become President Donald Trump’s Interior secretary.

Tina Olechowski, spokeswoman for the Quist campaign, said Gianforte and his “out-of-state billionaire friends” are trying to buy the election in Montana.

“It didn’t work last time and it won’t work this time,” she said, referring to Gianforte’s unsuccessful 2016 run for governor. “Gianforte will get the message that Montana cannot be bought and will never be for sale.”

The Gianforte campaign wasn’t immediately available to comment.

The outside groups are making what’s known as “independent expenditures” — campaign spending that promotes or attacks a candidate but that is not connected with the candidates’ campaigns.

The big spenders on behalf of Gianforte are the Congressional Leadership Fund, at $2 million; the National Republican Congressional Committee, $1 million; the Republican National Committee, $484,000; and the National Rifle Association’s Political Victory Fund, $286,500.

Other groups making independent expenditures for Gianforte are the Safari Club International PAC, Conservative Liberty Coalition, Gun Owners of America, Great America PAC and the Conservative Campaign Committee.

The groups spending for Quist are the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee at $340,000; Progressive Turnout Project, $184,500; and Planned Parenthood Action Fund, $108,000.

Of course, the independent expenditures aren’t the only big money in the race.

The candidates themselves are raising millions of dollars as well.

The Quist campaign said Friday it has surpassed $4 million in fundraising, including a huge surge in the past two weeks. The candidates’ last campaign-finance reports before the May 25 election are due Saturday.

Gianforte had raised $1.6 million at the last fundraising deadline, which was six weeks ago.