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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Late Registers Free Up More Political Money To Spend

McChesney, left, and Nelson file for office.
left, courtesy of and right courtesy of Terry Nelson
McChesney, left, and Nelson file for office.

Both Democratic Governor Steve Bullock and his Republican challenger, Greg Gianforte, now
have competition – and a lot more political money at their disposal – for their June 7th primary races.

Hamilton’s Terry Nelson has no illusions about his chance of defeating Greg Gianforte in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

"I understand that our campaign is truly a long shot.”

But Nelson, Ravalli County’s Planning Department administrator, says anything’s possible in this unorthodox election year. He doesn’t think the Gianforte campaign is adequately highlighting issues of importance to western Montanans, such as forestry management.

Miles City Democrat, Bill McChesney, meanwhile filed papers late last week to challenge incumbent Gov. Steve Bullock for his party’s nomination. The former state legislator says he wants meaningful campaign finance reform to be his campaign’s central theme:

"It’s unfortunate that in this day and age it seems to be the guy with the most money that wins.”

McChesney and Nelson’s last minute entries into Montana’s gubernatorial races amounts to a financial windfall for both Bullock and Gianforte. University of Montana political science professor Rob Saldin explains:

"Montana law permits candidates for governor to raise money separately for the primary and the general election. The catch is, that if they run unopposed for the primary, they’re required to give back the money that they raised for the primary.”

Since Bullock and Gianforte suddenly have primary challengers, they can both now spend up to hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece they’d otherwise have to give up. Specific totals aren’t yet known, but in Bullock’s case that could be up to $666,000; up to $220,000 is now freed up for Greg Gianforte.

"So what tends to happen is that a loyal party member will file paper work to ostensibly challenge their own party’s presumptive nominee. That challenger then essentially does nothing. But the technical fact of their candidacy frees up the real candidate to raise and spend money in the primary. That would appear to be what’s going on here.”

Democrat Bill McChesney donated $50 to Governor Bullock’s re-election campaign this year and $150 in 2012. He says he does not plan to tour the state in support of his candidacy. Terry Nelson, Ravalli County’s Republican Central Committee chair, says he’s a legitimate candidate and not just trying to free up money for Gianforte’s campaign.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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