Parting Shots

Unfunny Money

Crossover voting might not have mattered except for crossover cash spent through the Flathead First Political Action Committee

By Dave Skinner

Congratulations to special Flathead Democrats. They dang near popped the Flathead GOP’s power bubble with their pop-up PAC, Flathead First.

Was it crossover? Yep, of both voters (who we can’t track) AND cash. I say voters crossed over because in the 2020 general election Donald Trump got 64 percent and Joe Biden 34 percent of roughly 59,000 Flathead votes at the top of the ticket.

So, considering that nationwide Republican primary participation is higher than Democratic, did Reps and Dems go 64-34 in roughly 28,000 Flathead ballots cast June 7?

Not even close! Try 23,000 GOP to 5,500 Dem in the U.S. House primaries, 81/19 percent. Down ballot in the HD7 (Kalispell) race, Republicans split 1,496 votes, while Democrat Angela Kennedy got a puny 383 votes, 1,879 total, 80/20 percent. Kinda obvious.

Still, crossover voting might not have mattered except for crossover cash, spent through the Flathead First Political Action Committee, whose records are found among the 961 candidates and, get this, 606 committees registered in the Montana Political Practices CERES database.

Let’s focus on expenditures of both candidates and Flathead First in the last four reporting periods.

For commissioner, Pam Holmquist spent $16,606 while Jack Fallon spent $16,496 – nearly as close a match as the final votes.

For state house, Courtenay Sprunger spent a scary $20,358; Tony Brockman a crazy $24,919. Keep in mind these candidate funds were raised against a donor limit of $400 per election – man, that’s a lot of “asking.”

So here comes Flathead First (FF for short), which exemplifies WHY Montana has 606 state political action committees you’ve never heard of.

FF registered Feb. 4 and already had raised $36,805 by March 1, while spending only $21. Overall, FF spent a whopping, so far unreported in “news,” $76,684, just a couple grand short of the $78,000 our four candidates blew through IN. A. PRIMARY. 

FF had only 45 contributors, of whom 15 gave over $1,000 – unlike candidates, Montana PACs have absolutely no contribution limits. Who dem? Dems!

Tops was yak rancher James Watson, who paid in $20,000 to start, plus another $7,500, and also gave the maximum $400 to Jack Fallon. Of 34,000 “James Watson” contributions in Federal Elections Commission records, I couldn’t find “our” James. As “Jim” Watson, rancher, he donated $100 to Steve Bullock through Act Blue. 

Further, FEC records show Watson’s spouse Carol Bibler as a Democratic giver. Together, they both maxed out ($400 each) to FF darlings Courtenay Sprunger and Tony Brockman.

Next is $10,000 from Peter Saunders, a logistics entrepreneur. FEC shows Saunders giving nine federal contributions since 2012, about $2,000 total, all to Democrats or ActBlue. 

John Santa of Marion gave $10,000. Since 2011, FEC shows 213 contributions, vastly to Democrats, with the largest being $1,500 to Sen. Jon Tester in 2011. John’s spouse Carol has made 33 federal contributions in the same time frame, all to Democrats. Her several largest went to her politician brother, Walt Minnick (D) of Idaho. Carol also gave the maximum to Jack Fallon, $400. 

Randy Ogle gave $5,000; his only federal contribution came in 1992, $500 to “A Lot of Folks for Pat Williams,” (D-Mont.). He donated $250 to Jack Fallon.

Finally, after $52,500 comes a possible bipartisan, Sue Rolfing, $5,000: FEC shows her $500 to John McCain in January 2008, and $250 to Friends of Max Baucus in 2002. She and her husband also maxed out to Courtenay Sprunger.

What about Republicans? Everit Sliter gave FF $5,000, after 72 federal gifts since 1992, all establishment GOP, none over $1,000.

Margaret Davis of Lakeside gave $5,000. She has no FEC records, but her partner is philanthropist/attorney Bruce Ennis, who has 23 FEC records indicating a clear pattern of supporting GOP centrists, i.e., “moderates” John McCain, John Kasich and Mitt Romney.

So, that’s $62,500 from just seven people. As for the other, smaller contributors, notables include former Gov. Marc Racicot of Missoula, James Regnier of Lakeside and Bob Brown of Whitefish – all three “name” Republicans, at least in Montana, and well known as, um, “moderates.”

I’m not amused.