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Elections

Several Candidates Spend Big on Advertising Ahead of Montana Primary Election

Fundraising reports show where candidates stand financially ahead of primary

By Blair Miller, Daily Montanan
People cast their votes at the Flathead County Fairgrounds in Kalispell on Nov. 8, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Gov. Greg Gianforte, Attorney General Austin Knudsen and several Supreme Court candidates spent significant money on advertising between mid-April and mid-May as they get ready for next Tuesday’s primary, and the former two are already gearing up for the November election, according to campaign finance filings.

Candidates had to file their fundraising and spending figures for the period during the past two weeks as part of the lead-up to the June 4 primary, and the filings show Gianforte and Knudsen seem unfazed by their primary challengers, as they both spent more than $100,000 — far more for Gianforte — on political advertising that will run through the November election.

The filings in the statewide races also show Jerry Lynch and Cory Swanson continue to build their bank accounts for what they hope will be the November contest for the Montana Supreme Court Chief Justice seat, and two candidates for the other open Supreme Court seat have far outpaced the third candidate in terms of fundraising.

With ballots now in the hands of about 448,000 absentee voters in Montana and the June 4 primary less than a week away, the campaign finance filings show who has made significant financial moves ahead of the primary and for the General Election in November.

Governor

Gianforte, the Republican incumbent, raised another roughly $250,000 for the primary and General elections, but then spent $845,000 during the month between April 16 and May 14 – primarily on advertisements.

He spent a total of $750,000 on TV, cable, and digital advertising, which will include 15- and 30-second spots that will run from May 6 through Nov. 5, according to the filings.

Gianforte still had about $177,000 in his primary account, which can be transferred to his General Election account if he wins the primary. He had another $532,000 in his General Election fund.

His Republican primary opponent, Lakeside State Rep. Tanner Smith, reported raising about $37,000 during the month period, but that included another $23,000 in loans to his campaign. He has now loaned the campaign about $167,000, according to Montana’s campaign finance database.

Smith reported spending about $28,000 during the period – primarily on campaign signs, letters, and decals – and ended the period with about $17,000 in cash on hand.

Ryan Busse, the Democratic frontrunner, raised about $163,000 during the month – most of it for the primary – and spent about $160,000. Staffing salaries accounted for tens of thousands of dollars in spending, along with about $28,000 in billboard advertising. Busse ended mid-May with about $224,000 in his primary election account and another $122,000 in his General Election account.

Jim Hunt, the other Democrat running in the gubernatorial primary, did not file a report for the period, nor did he report raising or spending any money for the period that ended in April.

Libertarian Kaiser Leib raised $400 and spent about $250 over the monthlong period and has a little more than $150 in cash.

Attorney General

Knudsen, the incumbent Republican attorney general, also spent nearly his entire primary campaign fund over the monthlong period, primarily on broadcast, digital and cable ads that will run through the November election. In the filing, the ads are noted as being about “predators, Biden, poisoning.”

Knudsen raised about $63,000 during the period, about two-thirds of it for the primary, and spent nearly $202,000 during the month – about $167,000 of it on the advertisement production and placements.

Knudsen ended the period with just $542 in his primary account and another $91,000 in his General Election account.

His Republican primary opponent, Logan Olson, again reported raising and spending no money during the period.

The Montana Democratic Party’s executive director earlier this month filed complaints against Olson and Knudsen with the Commissioner of Political Practices saying Olson doesn’t meet the qualifications for the office and that Knudsen had said he recruited Olson to run so he could raise more money and was collecting funds for the primary and General elections before having a challenger. Knudsen’s campaign has called on the COPP to dismiss the complaint.

Democratic Attorney General candidate Ben Alke raised another $21,000 during the period and spent about $8,700, leaving him with about $86,000 in cash.

Supreme Court Chief Justice

Jeremiah “Jerry” Lynch also spent big on advertising during the period, putting $48,000 toward cable advertisements for the primary, according to his filing. He raised a combined $35,000 between his two accounts and spent $61,000 in total over the month. Lynch ended the period with about $103,000 in cash.

Cory Swanson reported raising about $25,000 during the period and spent about $19,000 — $10,000 of which went toward two billboards on Interstate 90. He had about $106,000 in cash heading into the final three weeks of the primary.

The other candidate in the race, Doug Marshall, did not file a report for the period. The two candidates who receive the most votes in the primary will be on November’s ballot in the nonpartisan race.

Supreme Court Seat No. 3

In the race to replace outgoing Justice Dirk Sandefur, two candidates have emerged as leaders in terms of fundraising: Dan Wilson, a Flathead County District Court judge, and Katherine Bidegaray, a district court judge whose district includes Dawson, McCone, Prairie, Richland and Wibaux counties.

Bidegaray also spent a chunk of money on advertising over the monthlong period, putting $36,000 toward an unspecified media buy. She raised about $68,000 during the month and spent about $51,000, according to her filing. She has about $100,000 in cash.

Wilson reported raising about $24,000 during the month and spent about $11,000 – mostly on campaign management fees and mailers, according to his filing. He ended the period with about $81,000 in the bank.

Jerry O’Neil did not report raising or spending any money during the period and has $132 in cash.

Clerk of the Supreme Court

Incumbent Republican Clerk of the Supreme Court Bowen Greenwood spent $25,000 on digital advertisements that are running from May 3 through the day of the primary and maintains a cash lead over his Republican challenger, sitting Senate President Jason Ellsworth of Hamilton.

Greenwood raised about $13,500 during the period and spent about $26,000 – most of it on advertising. He ended the period with about $20,000 in cash on hand.

Ellsworth, who declared his candidacy just ahead of the filing deadline in March, raised about $4,100 during the month, according to his filing, but did not spend any of that money. Instead, he spent about $9,800 of his own money on signs, a newspaper advertisement and travel.

Democrat Erin Farris-Olsen started mid-May with more money than any of the clerk candidates. She raised about $17,000 during the monthlong period and spent about $3,000, leaving her with about $27,000 in cash.

The other Democrat in the race, Jordan Ophus, did not report raising or spending any money, nor did Libertarian candidate Roger Roots.

Superintendent of Public Instruction

Republican Susie Hedalen, the Townsend School District superintendent, spent about $30,000 on TV ads during the month – nearly three-quarters of her spending during the period. She reported raising about $17,000 during the monthlong period and spent a total of $43,000. She reported around $28,000 in cash as of mid-May.

Her Republican opponent Sharyl Allen raised $1,700 during the month and spent $133, leaving her with about $4,600 in cash, according to her filing.

Democrat Shannon O’Brien, currently a Missoula state senator who is running unopposed in her primary for the superintendent seat, reported raising $41,000 during the month and spending about $31,000. She had about $60,000 in cash heading into the final weeks before the primary.

Secretary of State

Since all three candidates running for the Secretary of State position come from different parties, none of them face a primary challenger. But incumbent Republican Christi Jacobsen has a massive cash lead heading into the General Election season, according to their filings.

Jacobsen raised about $17,000 for the General Election, including $10,000 from the Montana Republican Party, according to her filing. That gives her about $140,000 for the General Election, and she still had about $29,000 in her primary account after spending about $7,600 during the period.

Democrat Jesse James Mullen reported raising about $5,000 during the period and spending about $2,500. Mullen has about $27,000 in cash on hand.

Libertarian John Lamb did not report raising or spending any money during the period.

State Auditor

Republican Jim Brown, the current Public Service Commission president, has about double the amount of cash of any other state auditor candidate. He raised another $16,000 from mid-April to mid-May and spent only $1,3000. He had about $38,000 at the end of the period.

The other Republican in the race, John Jay Willoughby, ended the period with about $10,500 in cash after raising about $7,300 and spending about $1,000 during the period. That included a $2,500 loan he gave his campaign.

Democrat John Repke raised $20,000 during the period and spent only about $1,500, leaving him with nearly $20,000 in cash as of May 15. He does not have an opponent for the primary.

Public Service Commission District 2

Both Republican candidates for the seat were actively spending money during the period, their filings show.

Brad Molnar, currently a state senator from Laurel, spent about $9,600 during the period on print advertising, yard signs and a radio advertisement. He loaned himself another $2,700 for yard signs, according to his filing. He reported raising about $6,500 during the period and had about $7,700 in cash three weeks before the primary.

Kirk Bushman, a former Public Service Commissioner, reported raising about $300, but spent $8,400 on mailers and text message outreach, according to his filing. After coming into the period with more than $15,000 in cash, he ended the period with about $6,900.

Democrat Susan Bilo gave her campaign a $3,000 loan, which accounted for nearly all the $3,375 she raised during the period. She spent $190 and had $3,235 in cash.

Public Service Commission District 3

Only two of the four candidates in the PSC District 3 race filed campaign finance report for the period. Robert Elwood, a Republican, did not file, nor did Lenny Williams, a Democrat.

Suzzann Nordwick, a Republican, loaned her campaign $34,000 during the period and spent all of it: $18,000 for a digital advertising campaign and $16,000 for mailers, according to her filing. She also has a debt of $5,000 for a text message campaign. Nordwick, who has received donations in the past from two other sitting PSC commissioners, had about $6,000 in cash as of mid-May.

Jeff Welborn, a Republican state senator from Dillon, raised another $4,000 during the monthlong period and spent about $2,600, including $1,500 for yard signs. He ended the period with about $4,000 in cash.

This story originally appeared in the The Daily Montanan, which can be found online at dailymontanan.com.