Credit: Pepi Stojanovski / Unsplash

With Montana’s 2018 campaign season into its final month, Sen. Jon Tester and Rep. Greg Gianforte, the two incumbents in the midterm election, have charted clear fundraising advantages over their respective challengers, State Auditor Matt Rosendale and former state legislator Kathleen Williams.

Tester, a Democrat seeking his third U.S. Senate term, has raised $18.2 million to fund his re-election bid, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission at the end of September. Rosendale has raised less than a quarter of Tester’s sum, $4.1 million.

Campaign finance as of 9/30/18
Campaign finance as of 9/30/18 Credit: Eric Dietrich / Montana Free Press

Incumbent Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte was elected to fill Montana’s sole U.S. House Seat in a special election last year, after then-Rep. Ryan Zinke was picked as the Trump Administration’s Secretary of the Interior. He has raised $8.2 million since January 2017 — a figure that includes money raised for the special election campaign against Democrat Rob Quist.

Gianforte’s challenger, Democrat Kathleen Williams, has raised $2.9 million. However, as of late September her campaign had three times Gianforte’s funding in the bank — $1.2 million compared to the congressman’s $398,000.

Libertarian Party U.S. House candidate Elinor Swanson has raised $12,800. FEC online data doesn’t report any fundraising for Libertarian U.S. Senate candidate Rick Breckenridge.

Credit: Eric Dietrich / for Montana Free Press

The Tester-Rosendale race in particular is seeing significant outside spending, according to figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Spending on negative advertising that advocates against both Republican and Democratic candidates dominates the figures.

Rosendale, whose campaign has spent $3.4 million itself, has benefited from $11.1 million in outside spending directed against Tester, according to CRP. In the pro-Tester realm, the center has tallied $8.8 million in outside spending directed against Rosendale. Smaller sums have been spent by non-campaign groups in an effort to shore up the two candidates — $2.4 million for Tester and $3.1 million for Rosendale.

The largest share of anti-Tester spending, $4.7 million, has come from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, with another $405,000 directed against the incumbent senator by the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action, according to CRP data.

Rosendale has been targeted by $2.0 million in spending from the End Citizens United committee, as well as $1.9 million in spending by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Pro-Tester spending includes $961,000 in support from the New American Jobs Fund, a conservation and labor-backed political action committee that caused a number of Montana voters confusion earlier this month with an official-looking mailing intended to encourage absentee voter registration.

Senate candidates Tester and Rosendale in particular have also received substantial financial support from individuals across the nation, something the Center for Responsive Politics says is routine in Senate contests where candidates of both major parties turn to donors in major cities trying to fill their war chests.

About 80% of contributions to both Tester and Rosendale have come from outside Montana, CRP estimates. For Gianforte and Williams, the figures were respectively 69 percent and 83 percent as of data available Oct. 18.

Zip code-level contribution totals also reveal the increasingly important role Gallatin County — home to both Gianforte and Williams — plays in the financing of Montana politics, a trend born-out in the 2018 cycle for both Democratic and Republican candidates.

Tester has raised $308,000 from the 59715 zip code — central Bozeman and a surrounding swath of Gallatin County — according to an analysis of FEC contribution data. Gianforte has raised even more there, $350,000.

Williams, like Gianforte and Tester, has found central Bozeman to be a lucrative zip code, raising $103,000 — more than 8 percent of her overall fundraising.

Rosendale has done less well there, raising $35,000 in the 59715 — $10,000 less than he’s raised in zip code closer to his own home, Glendive’s 59330.

Eric came to journalism in a roundabout way after studying engineering at Montana State University in Bozeman (credit, or blame, for his career direction rests with the campus's student newspaper, the Exponent). He has worked as a professional journalist in Montana since 2013, with stints at the Great Falls Tribune, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, and Solutions Journalism Network before joining the Montana Free Press newsroom in Helena full time in 2019.