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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Quist: Healthcare Costs, Lack Of Insurance Led To Tax Liens

Greg Gianforte (L) and Rob Quist (R) are running for Congress in a special election to fill Ryan Zinke's seat.
Greg Gianforte (L) and Rob Quist (R) are running for Congress in a special election to fill Ryan Zinke's seat.

Today news broke that the two major party candidates in Montana's special election for Congress have had tax liens filed against them in the past.

The Associated Press says that, "a group seeking to influence the May 25 special election" gave them information about liens against Democrat Rob Quist. The Democratic Party responded by providing information about Republican Greg Gianforte.

The lien against Gianforte was for $3,600 and dates to 1993 in New Jersey. The Gianforte campaign declined Montana Public Radio's request for an interview on the topic today.*(For clarification, please see below)

The liens against Rob Quist are for about $15,000, for the tax years 2007, 2011 and 2012. They're from the state of Montana, and Quist settled them last May.

"I’m happy to talk about this," Quist says.

"I just want to say that in the wake of the great recession, like a lot of Montana families, my wife and I were forced to make some difficult decisions, and we were stuck with tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills and I was unable to keep insurance coverage."

Quist says the big bills he was stuck with were due to botched gall bladder surgery in 1996. He had health insurance at the time, but says he was "unable to keep it" afterwards because he had a pre-existing medical condition. He had to pay for additional surgeries out of pocket.

"To mitigate this, we went as far as to try to sell off half of our ranch to cover the cost. But there was a dispute over a property line, and that led to a lengthy legal dispute with a too-big-to-fail bank, and that prevented us from selling the property until just recently."

Quist declined to name the bank because he says he's now finalizing an out-of-court settlement with it that will allow him to pay off a $10,000 loan he defaulted on, as a result of his medical bills.

"But now this is all taken care of, and it’s all being settled, so this is really a non-issue in my opinion."

What is an issue, Quist says, is:

"These are things that people face every day. I think multi-millionaires like Gianforte have no idea about the consequences people face every day, and in a lot of ways we have a society that puts profits ahead of people, with our health insurance, with our too-big-to-fail banks that won't work with people."

It’s unclear what impact, if any, the news of Quist and Gianforte's tax liens will have on race for Montana's House seat. Neither the Montana Republican nor Democratic Parties responded to our requests for comment for this story.

I asked Quist if he told Democratic party leaders about his tax liens prior to the party's convention in March in which he won the nomination to be its candidate for the House seat.

"I think I spoke to the fact that I had some issues. As soon as I won the nomination I was very frank with them about that. They were aware of that. But the thing is, they didn’t feel like there was a problem, because they said Greg Gianforte has tax liens … too, so they didn't feel like that was going to be an issue."

Eric Whitney: But you didn’t make party leaders aware of it until after you were named the nominee, correct?

"I think that’s correct," Quist says.

Both Quist and Gianforte have filed financial disclosure documents with the U.S. House of Representatives:

*CLARIFICATION: MTPR's interview request was narrowly worded, seeking only comment on Rob Quist's tax liens. After the story aired, the Gianforte campaign called to say they had no comment on either candidates' liens, except to emphasize that Mr. Gianforte's were settled within months of them being filed. We regret the confusion. 

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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