HELENA — In the race for Montana’s U.S. House seat, Democrat Kathleen Williams is taking a $3,000 monthly salary from her campaign – an obscure fact that prompted her Republican opponent, Matt Rosendale, to criticize her in last week’s debates.
“She’s looking to use your taxpayer dollars to support $5 million of her campaign, while the same time her campaign is paying her a salary,” he said during last Saturday’s debate sponsored by MTN News.
Williams hasn’t sought to use taxpayer dollars to support her current campaign and hasn’t raised anything close to $5 million. Through June, her campaign had raised $2.4 million from donors, while Rosendale had raised $1.9 million.
Rosendale’s reference is to Williams’ support of a 2019 House bill that would create a federal fund to help finance candidates running for Congress, up to a certain amount. That money would come from fines paid by corporations, for malfeasance – not general taxpayers.
But Williams has been using the campaign to pay herself a monthly salary, and in fact personally paid back $12,500 of that money last year after discovering that Federal Election Commission rules didn’t allow a salary payment until after the official candidate filing deadline.
In Montana, that deadline was March 9. Since then, Williams, a former associate director for a landowner conservation group, has been accepting the $3,000 monthly salary from her campaign.
As Williams explained in Saturday’s debate, replying to Rosendale, she’s not independently wealthy and needs to support herself while she runs for Congress, a full-time job.
“I’m not a wealthy millionaire; I need to be able to support myself to be able to run,” she said. “I put aside a successful career to do this and the little salary helps.”
The $3,000 monthly salary works out to about $17 an hour.
A campaign paying the candidate a salary is somewhat unusual, but not unheard of, and candidates from both parties have done it, the Williams campaign said. For example, it said that Vice President Mike Pence did it when he ran for Congress.
Williams’ campaign also noted that her campaign money is from donors, not taxpayers – and that Rosendale, the state auditor and insurance commissioner, has spent 70 percent of his term running for other offices, while getting paid $92,000 a year by the public.
“Millionaire Matt Rosendale is leveling a callous attack on Kathleen for being middle-class and needing an income,” said campaign spokesman Jeff Allen. “The difference is that Kathleen is taking a small salary from her campaign, while Rosendale takes an almost six-figure, taxpayer-funded salary to spend four years running for higher office.”
Rosendale, a rancher and real-estate developer, took office in January 2017. Since then, he’s run for U.S. Senate in 2018, losing to Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, and started running for the House last June.
Shelby DeMars, spokeswoman for the Rosendale campaign, said Rosendale has not been shirking his duties as insurance commissioner.
“From his participating on the Land Board to his track record of lowering health-care costs and protecting pre-existing conditions, Matt keeps his word and works hard for the people of Montana,” she said.
Rosendale also isn’t the only statewide officeholder running for another office this year. Gov. Steve. Bullock and Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney, both Democrats, are running for U.S. Senate and governor, respectively, and U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, a Republican, is running for governor.
Campaign records also show that Rosendale has used $27,000 of his campaign funds this year to pay himself back for part of a personal loan he made to his 2018 U.S. Senate campaign.
His campaign said it’s merely paying Rosendale back money he personally put into his campaign, rather than using donors’ money to pay himself a salary.
It also said that Rosendale’s payment is within FEC rules, which Williams violated last year.
Williams’ campaign, which began in April 2019, paid her the monthly salary through August of that year, records show. But she repaid that money when she discovered that FEC rules didn’t allow salary payments to candidates until after the election year filing deadline, the campaign said.
Rosendale’s accusation that Williams supports using taxpayer money for campaigns refers to her support of a bill passed by House Democrats last year.
Among other things, the bill – which didn’t become law – would create a federal fund that matches small-dollar donations for candidates who meet certain requirements. Money for that fund would come from fines paid by corporations for malfeasance – not taxpayer money.
However, Williams has expressed support in the past for taxpayer-funded campaigns, as a way to lessen the influence of private money in politics.