This story is the second of a two-part series on the 2018 elections in Montana.
HELENA – U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, bracing for another tough election battle in 2018, has received at least 81 percent of his nearly $8 million campaign war chest from sources outside Montana, an MTN analysis shows.
Tester, one of several Democratic incumbent senators up for election in states won handily by President Trump last year, has culled funds from across the nation, with donors from every state.
And while he’s garnered plenty of money from Montanans since winning re-election in 2012 – at least $663,000 – he’s also raised considerable sums from Californians, New Yorkers and donors from the Washington, D.C. area.
Tester’s campaign says he’s received 13,300 separate contributions from Montanans for the 2018 race, most of them less than $100 each.
“We are proud of the widespread, grassroots support our campaign has received here in Montana,” says campaign manager Christie Roberts. “Montanans know that every day, Jon is going to fight for them, relentlessly defending Montana from the outside interests trying to buy our elections, take our public lands and chip away at our personal freedoms.”
Yet the vast majority of his campaign money is from out-of-state sources, including political action committees.
He’s also not alone when it comes to relying on campaign funds not from the pocket of individual Montanans.
Some of his potential Republican competitors – at least six men have said they intend to run in the GOP U.S. Senate primary next year – also have accepted plenty of money from non-Montanans.
For example, less than 5 percent of Big Sky businessman Troy Downing’s campaign fund has come from Montana donors.
Tester’s last race in 2012 set the record for campaign spending in Montana, with more than $50 million spent by outside groups, Tester, and his Republican opponent, then-U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg.
David Parker, a political scientist at Montana State University, says the 2018 Tester race could be of the same financial magnitude – or, maybe not, depending on who the Republican nominee is and how competitive the race becomes.
“I do think, relatively to 2012, though, that race is not quite as competitive yet,” he says. “Whether or not it’s going to be a $50-$60 million race like it was in 2012, I’m not too confident yet that that’s going to be the case.”
Tester and his campaign say they’re taking nothing for granted, and that they need a big bank account to fight back against an expected onslaught of money from outside groups, trying to defeat him.
“We know what they’re going to do,” Tester told MTN News in a recent interview. “They’re going to try to make me into something I’m not and then run against that person. They tried to do that in 2006, they tried to do that in 2012.”
MTN News examined the source of Tester’s donations, dating back to January 2013. Some of the findings:
- At least 81 percent, or $6.3 million, came from individuals and political-action committees (PACs) from outside Montana. The total amount of money from sources outside the state is certainly a bit higher, however:
- Another $800,000 of Tester’s money came from “non-itemized” individuals, whose names or addresses aren’t required to be listed because they gave less than $200. Many of these individuals are likely from Montana – but many are not. Any amount from this group that comes from non-Montanans should be added to the 81 percent of identifiable out-of-state funds for the Tester campaign.
- Individuals who give more than $200 must be listed on campaign reports, with names, addresses and occupations. Of the $4.5 million that Tester received from these individuals, about $663,000 came from Montanans – or 8.5 percent of his total contributions.
- Donors from New York gave at least $813,000, or 10 percent of his total; donors from California $708,000 (9 percent); donors from Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland clocked in at $661,000, or 8.5 percent.
- PACs, which represent businesses, labor unions and various ideological causes, have contributed $2.4 million to Tester’s campaign, or 31 percent of his total. Almost all PACs are based outside Montana.
MTN News also examined the latest available campaign-finance reports of Republicans in the race, filed last month and reflecting fundraising and spending through Sept. 30:
State Auditor Matt Rosendale: Of the $434,000 raised by Rosendale, at least 63 percent came from out-of-state sources. He raised about a third of his money from Montanans, including $132,000 from individuals who gave more than $200 each.
He received considerable amounts from Texans ($48,000), Floridians ($46,000) and Californians ($42,000).
Big Sky businessman Troy Downing: About 70 percent of his campaign funds has come from his own pocket, in the form of $350,000 of personal loans. He reported receiving about $20,000 from Montanans, or just over 4 percent of his total campaign funds of $492,000.
State Sen. Al Olszewski of Kalispell: About 60 percent of Olszewski’s $168,000 in campaign funds has come from his own pocket. He’s raised $65,000, mostly from individuals, and at least $42,400 of that money has come from Montanans.
Olszewski said he recently sent a fundraising mailer to 51,000 Montana households, and that it’s bringing in a lot of small donations. “My goal is to have the most personal donations,” he said.
Russell Fagg, former state district judge from Billings: Fagg hasn’t revealed any of his donors or spending because he used an “exploratory committee” to raise money before declaring his candidacy last month. He says he’ll list his donors and spending in his first required report in January.
Business owner Ron Murray of Belgrade and financial adviser James Dean of Havre haven’t filed any reports, presumably because they had less than the $5,000 threshold for reporting to the Federal Election Commission.