HELENA — Greg Gianforte, the Republican running for Montana governor, announced that he is launching a major ad blitz that will begin airing across the state Tuesday — a sign that Gianforte will be dipping into substantial financial resources to aggressively court voters as he seeks to deny Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, a second term.
In his first television spot, Gianforte calls himself “a job creator, not a politician who thinks government has all the answers.”
Aaron Flint, a spokesman for the Gianforte campaign, declined to discuss the details of the purchases, saying only “that it is a sizable buy across the state.”
The Democratic Governors Association has been tracking the purchases and calculated the total to be $227,000.
As of Tuesday afternoon, The Associated Press confirmed about $110,000 in airtime purchases from six stations in Billings, Butte, Great Falls and Missoula through records filed with the Federal Communications Commission. Stations are required by federal law to inform the FCC of political spending on public airwaves.
KTVQ in Billings said commercials are scheduled to begin airing Tuesday. FCC records show the Gianforte campaign paying the station $26,690. The campaign also bought $23,980 in airtime from KXLF in Butte and $21,740 from KPAX in Missoula.
The massive ad buy so early in the campaign is just the beginning of what is expected to be one of the most expensive campaigns waged for Montana governor.
“To be spending that much money this early indicates that the Gianforte campaign will be a very well-financed campaign. That’s a substantial amount of money,” said Jeremy Johnson, a political science professor at Carroll College.
The spending also opens questions about whether Gianforte will dip into his personal fortune to help finance his run.
As of March 27, Gianforte reported having $122,000 to spend on the primary, where he faces a nominal challenger. That total indicates Gianforte had a recent infusion of campaign cash, although the source of that money won’t be known until he files his next campaign spending report on May 1.
Flint said questions about how the campaign financed the ad purchases were “speculative.”
Bullock campaign officials, long suspicious that Gianforte would self-finance his gubernatorial bid, said the ad spending “proves he has resorted to dumping his own personal fortune into this race.”
Bullock’s campaign manager, Eric Hyers, said it would be running its own advertising but none in the immediate future.
Gianforte made millions after selling RightNow Technologies, the software company he founded in Bozeman in 1997, to Oracle for $1.8 billion. He reported $220.5 million in income between 2005 and 2014, according to tax returns he previously released at the request of The AP.
Ever since Gianforte set up a committee exploring a run for governor, the Bozeman Republican has been traveling extensively across the state. His campaign hopes the one-minute spots will help further boost his name recognition.
Gianforte’s campaign manager, Amy Lunde, said the ads provide an opportunity to introduce voters to a successful businessman who has never run for office.