With about a month and a half until the primary election, two of the four candidates seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate have topped $1 million in contributions, including Big Sky businessman Troy Downing who chipped in $1 million of his own money.
Downing and state Auditor Matt Rosendale have raised the most in their party's primary to run against incumbent U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, this fall.
Not counting the candidate's own money, Rosendale raised the most in the first three months of 2018, followed closely by former Billings judge Russ Fagg. State legislator and doctor Al Olszewski trailed in the four-way race.
Tester, who is seeking his third Senate term, has raised far more than the other candidates combined, topping $2 million this quarter to bring his campaign total to $11.39 million.
In a release last week, Tester's campaign said the numbers show a "groundswell of support across the state" and said he's received contributions from each county in Montana from Jan. 1 to March 31.
“Outside dark money groups are already flooding Montana with millions of dollars trying to buy this election and paint Jon Tester as someone he’s not, but these special interest groups are no match for Jon’s grassroots support in Montana,” said Christie Roberts, campaign manager for Montanans for Tester.
Tester's campaign has spent $4.9 million and ended the quarter with $6.48 million cash on hand.
Downing's totals were the most in the GOP primary for the first three months of the year, totaling $439,312. However, $350,000 of that came from a loan Downing gave his campaign. That brings the amount he's put into his own campaign to $1 million.
To date, the campaign has brought in $1.29 million. Downing has far outspent the field in the Republican primary, hitting $1.19 million by March 31. His campaign ended the quarter with $98,051 cash on hand.
Downing's campaign manager, Kevin Gardner, said the finance reports show Downing is in a "really strong position to win this primary."
Gardner said Downing's money means he the only candidate with television ads out right now, putting him in a position of getting his name in front of voters.
Being able to self-finance, Gardner said, means Downing doesn't have to take corporate PAC money and any strings that might come attached to it.
"Troy is the only candidate that isn't an established career politician that isn't getting money from all of these super PACs and outside interests like you've seen Matt Rosendale get."
Rosendale brought in $319,237 total for the quarter, bringing his tally to $1.08 million for the election. Rosendale is the only Republican in the race who hasn't put any of his own money into his campaign.
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The Associated Press reported Tuesday that Rosendale is getting a strong push from political committees bankrolled by conservative mega-donor Richard Uihlein of Illinois, a passionate but little-known businessman who also supported Roy Moore's unsuccessful candidacy in Alabama. Those two committees — Restoration PAC and Americas PAC — have spent more than $1.2 million to support Rosendale. Three more so-called super PACs spent an additional $84,000 on his behalf.
No other Republican in the race has benefited from independent expenditures, according to FEC records.
Rosendale comes in second in spending at half of Downing's, at $548,517. His campaign had $541,288 at the end of the quarter.
Rosendale's campaign sent a press release last week calling hitting the $1 million mark a "milestone."
“Matt is leading this primary race as the only candidate with the financial strength, infrastructure and support in place to defeat Jon Tester in November,” said Kendall Cotton, Rosendale’s campaign manager, in the release.
Former Yellowstone County judge Russ Fagg raised nearly as much as Rosendale, $318,216, in the first quarter of 2018. That includes $10,000 of his own money, bringing his total for the campaign to $35,000. He also brought in $10,000 from PACs.
Fagg has spent $300,605 on his campaign to date, leaving him with $633,065 in the bank.
Olszewski has spent $185,508 and has $47,983 cash on hand.
Tuesday Fagg focused less on the amount of money he raised than where it's come from, pointing to his 2017 year-end reporting showing 80 percent of his contributions have come from Montana.
"To me, that shows grassroots support. That's the bottom line, I've got the Montana support," Fagg said. He also said his cash in the bank puts him in a good position going into the June 5 primary.
Olszewski brought in $24,037 for the first three months of 2018, bringing his campaign total to $233,491. He's lent his campaign $100,000 to date.
Turning down almost all PAC money, Olszewski said, might mean he's the lowest of all the candidates in terms of contributions, but that collecting money isn't his focus and it means he's not tied to the interest of any particular group.
"I don't make fundraising my No. 1 emphasis. ... I've already paid for my campaign. I've already bought all my radio ads, all my print ads, I've already paid for my social media. So any money now will go toward television," Olszewski said.
With only one employee, Olszewski said his campaign is cheaper to run and he has volunteers out spreading his messages.