If No One Challenges, Schweitzer, Brown Must Give Cash Back

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer and his Republican challenger, Sen. Roy Brown, each will have to forfeit thousands of dollars in campaign money if they have no primary opponents by the March 20 filing deadline.

Under state law, the maximum donation an individual can make to a candidate for governor is $500 for the primary election and $500 for the general election or $1,000 altogether. But if that candidate has no primary challenger, the upper limit is $500 for the entire election cycle.

As it stands, Brown would have to give back $17,300, or 11 percent of the nearly $152,000 he raised through Dec. 31, if he has no primary challenger. Schweitzer would have to hand over nearly $215,000, or slightly more than one-fifth of the $1 million-plus he raised through Dec. 31.

However, those totals likely will rise; new campaign finance reports are due Monday.

The law setting up the campaign finance limit was part of a voter initiative passed by Montanans in 1994. Since then, no candidate for governor from either political party has had to give back any money for lack of a primary opponent.

Brown said he fully expects Schweitzer to find a Democratic challenger. He added that Schweitzer’s Web site and donation cards say the maximum donation amount sought is $1,000 per person. They don’t mention that half of that total would have to be refunded if no Democratic primary challenger emerges.

“Schweitzer is asking for $1,000 so he must be assuming he’ll have a primary opponent,” Brown said.

Brown said his own fundraising envelopes say donors can give $500 per person, per election.

“There are a few that give me $1,000 in anticipation there will be a primary,” Brown said. “I tell everyone up front if you want to do that, I might have to return it.”

Schweitzer, on the other hand, said he hasn’t been paying much attention to the topic.

“I’m busy running,” he said. “I haven’t even thought about it. I wouldn’t be surprised if we have two or three more challengers.”

Schweitzer noted that he had a primary challenger in 2004 when John Vincent, a former Bozeman legislator and local government official, jumped in the race.

The governor played down the fundraising aspect of running for governor, although he hasn’t neglected it.

His fundraising phone calls and letters have been going out throughout Montana. Besides Montana fundraising events, Schweitzer’s campaign schedules fundraising events when he’s out of state. Late last month, he had a $1,000-a-person party in Washington, D.C., sponsored by former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle after the National Governors Association.

“I don’t think money wins elections,” Schweitzer said. “I think action wins elections, so I’ll spend my time continuing to run the state, attracting businesses and working on funding for schools.”