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Governor candidate Williams raises $439,000 in 1st quarter
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Governor candidate Williams raises $439,000 in 1st quarter

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State Capitol

The Montana State Capitol building in Helena.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Whitney Williams reported Monday raising more than $439,000 in her first fundraising quarter, more than previous out-of-the-gate performances by the other Democrats running in their party’s 2020 primary.

Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte pulled in $345,498 in the fourth quarter, continuing his dominance in the money race on the GOP side of the primary.

The office is open in 2020 as Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock is termed out from running again. 

Campaign finance reports for the last three months of 2019 were due Monday. This is the first view into Williams’ fundraising since she announced her bid for governor Oct. 3, after the deadline for that period's filings. Williams is a newcomer as a candidate but by no means new to the national or Montana political scene.

Her parents are Carol Williams, the first woman to hold a majority leader position in the state Senate and founder of Carol's List, which supports Democratic women candidates; and Pat Williams, who served as Montana's representative in the U.S. House from 1979-1997.

Williams, of Missoula, also worked in the Clinton White House before moving on to eventually found williamsworks, her agency that consults with major philanthropic nonprofits and other clients including Fortune 500 companies.

There are three other Democrats in the primary: Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney; state House minority leader Casey Schreiner of Great Falls; and former state lawmaker Reilly Neill of Livingston.

Cooney's campaign said it raised about $200,000 in the final quarter, bringing its total for the campaign to more than $450,000. Those numbers came from a press release because the campaign said it was having issues uploading its report to the Commissioner of Political Practices' website.

In the press release, Cooney, who has long served as an elected official in Montana in several capacities, emphasized his backing came from donors statewide.

“I’m so humbled to have the support of folks all across the state helping fuel this campaign,” Cooney said. " … I’m proud to be running a campaign rooted in Montana values. … With over 5,000 contributions from Montanans alone and from nearly all 56 counties since we announced in July, we’ve proven time and time again that this campaign is fueled by and for Montanans.”

The two other Democrats trail Williams and Cooney significantly. Schreiner reported bringing in about $15,200 in the last three months of 2019, bringing his total to about $85,000. Neill raised $700 in her last report and had not yet filed as of Monday evening.

"We knew from the beginning we were going to run a lean, scrappy campaign and spend most of our time out talking to people who don't make campaign donations," Schreiner said Monday.

On the Republican side, Gianforte's haul brings his total for the campaign to $1.3 million. 

Jake Eaton, Gianforte's campaign manager, said Monday in a statement that shows the congressman, who is making is second run for governor in four years, has broad support.

“The tremendous outpouring of enthusiasm and financial support for Greg’s campaign clearly demonstrates Montanans of all political stripes are excited about the prospect of a Gov. Greg Gianforte," Eaton said.

Republican Attorney General Tim Fox raised $105,800 in the final quarter of 2019, bringing the total for his campaign to about $564,000.

Fox released a statement Monday saying he has been “humbled by the tremendous support we’ve received over the past year as we fight for a safer, more prosperous Montana."

Fox also took aim at Gianforte, adding " … I look forward to showing why a native Montanan is better suited to lead our state than a wealthy East Coast transplant like Greg Gianforte.”

Gianforte, a high-tech startup founder who has significant personal wealth, has loaned his campaign $50,000 and spent about $22,000 of his own funds.

Olszewski had not filed a report by Monday evening.

In October, Cooney proposed a campaign finance pledge meant to reduce outside spending and self-funding. Neill agree to it, while Schreiner didn't specifically weigh in. Williams’ campaign at the time called the pledge a media stunt.

A list of those who donated to Williams’ campaign reflect her network, with names like Allan Golston, president of the Gates Foundation, and Eric Schmidt, the former CEO and executive chairman of Google and Alphabet, according to the campaign. 

There are also names of well-known Montana political figures like Denise Juneau, the former Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Carol Juneau, her mother and former state representative and senator. Another contributor was Michael Punke, an author and executive at Amazon who was rumored to have an interest in running for U.S. Senate or governor.

Cooney, for his part, has emphasized endorsements like that from Gov. Steve Bullock.

In a statement Monday, Williams pointed to the 1,300 contributions her campaign said it received from Montanans as a sign of support.

“I am honored to have the support of so many Montanans as we build the professional operation needed to take on New Jersey (millionaire) Greg Gianforte,” Williams said, identifying, as have other Democrats, Gianforte as the candidate they expect to face in November. “In order to win in November, Democrats need a candidate who can capture enthusiasm, broad-based support, and the resources necessary to defeat the richest member of U.S. Congress."

Going into the start of 2020, Gianforte reported having the largest campaign war chest, with about $782,500 in the bank. Fox's campaign reported just below $200,000.

On the Democratic side, Williams had just over $250,000 cash on hand to Cooney's reported $180,000. Schreiner reported about $20,200. 

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The filing period for candidates to get their name on the ballot in Montana opened Thursday morning. A Democrat running in their party's U.S. Senate primary said she'd raised more than $460,000 over the last three months of 2019.

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