A half-dozen organizations, all within a few blocks of the White House, have spent more than $7 million in Montana’s gubernatorial race, including the Republican Governors Association (RGA), the Democratic Governors Association (DGA), the National Education Association and several other major labor unions.
Both candidates in the tight contest — Steve Bullock, the state’s Democratic attorney general, and Republican former congressman Rick Hill — will be outspent several times over by the interest groups. And both say that the spending is out of balance.
The RGA, which is backing Hill, has spent more than $4.2 million in the state, compared with the $1.4 million Hill has raised for his campaign. (Donations to gubernatorial candidates are capped at $630.)
Bullock had benefited from $1.7 million in DGA spending as of Oct. 1 and $884,000 from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a government workers union.
The two governors associations, political organizations headed by Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), can accept donations of any size for campaigns, with most of their funding coming from corporations. The groups have long played roles in elections, but since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
ruling, they are freer to use corporate funds and run harder-hitting ads.
The swell of money into Montana comes as the state is in the midst of a boom in natural resources, and many companies drilling for oil in the eastern part of the state are major donors to the RGA. However, officials at the organization say the corporate money goes into the RGA’s general fund and is not spent in Montana because the legality of giving corporate funds to the state Republican Party is still murky.
Among those contributors is Exxon Mobil, which has donated $500,000 to the RGA in the past two years, compared with $175,000 to the DGA. The company announced a $1.6 billion deal in September to buy oil assets in Montana and North Dakota. Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers said the company does not direct the RGA to spend money on certain races.
Overall, companies invested in Montana oil have given $1.7 million to the RGA and less than $400,000 to the DGA during this election cycle.
‘Literally bought and owned’
Montana’s history with corporate money was captured in the 1912 law, the Corrupt Practices Act, which voters adopted after a series of blatant displays of political muscle. In one instance, a copper-mining trust forced the legislature into a special session to pass company-written legislation circumventing judges who had been loyal to its rivals.
After the Citizens United decision, Montana did more than any other state to resist the finding that corporations can spend unlimited money on elections.