BILLINGS — Heavy spending by Republican Steve Daines has turned Montana’s open U.S. House race into the most expensive contest for the seat since 2000.
Daines and Democrat Kim Gillan have raised a combined $2.8 million through Oct. 17. That’s the most since Republican Denny Rehberg beat Democrat Nancy Keenan in 2000 in a highly competitive race costing $4 million.
But this time around, the scales are tipped decidedly in the GOP candidate’s favor as the party digs in to retain a seat it has controlled for 16 years.
Campaign finance reports show Daines with $1.94 million in contributions — more than double Gillan’s $820,000.
Both have benefited from out-of-state cash from political groups and individuals, which account for roughly $4 out of every $10 taken in by each candidate, according to itemized campaign reports.
That figure does not count smaller, unreported donations. With those tallied, out-of-state donations fall to $3 of every $10 for Gillan, and about $3.60 of every $10 for Daines, the two campaigns said.
Those include major donations to Daines from corporate and conservative political groups, and to Gillan from unions and left-leaning organizations.
Daines, a former technology executive from Bozeman, has never held political office. He cruised to an easy primary win after more than a year-and-a-half of campaigning, initially as a candidate for U.S. Senate before making way for Rehberg’s challenge of the incumbent Democrat, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester.
About 84 percent of his individual donations were from Montana residents, his campaign said.
Political action committees, or PACs, and party committees have given Daines $391,000.
Almost all of that came from out of state, primarily groups in the Washington, D.C.-area, and includes $10,000 each from at least 11 PACs.
Many have the major donors have corporate or conservative ties. They include Boeing Co. PAC, Citizens United Political Victory Fund, Koch Industries PAC, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association PAC, The Home Depot PAC, and the National Automotive Dealers’ Election Action Committee.
Campaign manager Zach Lahn said Daines’ contributors were helping the candidate spread his message of job creation and less government. He added that the figures don’t capture time offered by volunteers.
“Just last week our volunteers made over 30,000 phone calls encouraging fellow Montanans to support Steve,” Lahn said.
Gillan, a state senator from Billings, has struggled to overcome Daines’ fundraising advantage since emerging from a crowded seven-way Democratic primary in June.
She, too, has raised about 84 percent of her individual donations within Montana, her campaign said.
About $145,000 came from political action committees and party committees. Slightly more than half of the Democrat’s PAC money came from groups in the D.C.-area, including multiple labor unions.
PACs for the International Union of Operating Engineers and United Transportation Union donated $10,000 each. Offering $5,000 apiece were PACs tied to the American Federation of Teachers, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, National Association of Letter Carriers, United Steelworkers and International Association of Firefighters.
Ideological and political groups donating to Gillan include NARAL Pro-Choice America PAC, with $5,000; Democrats Reshaping America, with $1,000; and Nancy Pelosi for Congress, with $2,000.
Campaign manager Dave Hoffman said despite lagging Daines on the money front, Gillan has stayed competitive. Polls in past months showed enough undecided voters to make up for Daines’ lead in those voter surveys.
“The most important thing is Kim is out talking to Montanans about her ideas about how she’s going to protect Medicare for seniors and how she’s going to protect women’s health,” he said.
Hoffman added that Daines’ campaign was “bought and paid for” by conservative leaders who have hosted private fundraisers on his behalf, including Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.
The Daines campaign’s Lahn countered by linking Gillan to Pelosi, saying “there’s only one candidate in the race who’s going to be voting for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker if elected.”
Daines’ spending just in the first two-and-a-half weeks of October topped $317,000. That’s more than five times what Gillan spent in the same period.
Republicans have invested so heavily in the race in part to protect their control of the House of Representatives, said University of Montana political analyst James Lopach.
If the party fails to take the presidency or gain a majority in the Senate, GOP leaders want to hold at least one chamber to mount an effective opposition to Democratic control, Lopach said.
Despite the millions spent, the House race has significantly lagged the Rehberg-Tester contest.
The senate race so far has cost more than $40 million, more than half spent by super PACs and other outside groups not directly connected to the campaigns. Such groups have played a more nominal role in the House race.
Only the women’s health and advocacy group Planned Parenthood has spent money independently on Gillans’ behalf. It sent $2,650 worth of postcards touting the candidate in mid-October.
Daines has benefited from more than $66,000 in print, radio and online ads from Gun Owners of America, Inc., National Right to Life PAC, National Right to Life Victory Fund, Faith Family Freedom Fund and Safari Club International PAC.
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