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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Outside Groups Spent Over $40 Million On Montana Congressional Races

Spending by Candidates In Montana's U.S. Senate Races, 2000-2018. Data:,
Corin Cates Carney
Spending by Candidates In Montana's U.S. Senate Races, 2000-2018. Data:,

The candidates for Montana's two contested seats in Congress this year, and their supporters, spent more than $76 million over the last two years in their election campaigns.

The U.S. Senate race between Democrat Jon Tester and Republican Matt Rosendale brought in most of that money, making it the most expensive election contest in state history.

“The amount of money being spent on races is going up,” says Brendan Glavin with the Campaign Finance Institute, based in Washington, D.C. 

Glavin says nationwide there is a general upward trend in how much candidates are spending to get elected.

However Glavin says the real increase in spending is coming from outside groups that can spend and raise unlimited money to support or oppose candidates, some of which can do so without disclosing where that money comes from. He says that’s the result of the 2010 Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.  

“That’s where we've really seen the large increases in spending," Glavin says.

The two frontrunners in the U.S. Senate race in Montana, and outside groups for and against them, spent a total of around $68 million.

According to finance reports published Thursday, Tester’s campaign expenses bid added up to more than $20 million. That means Tester spent almost $80 for every vote he received on election day.

Tester won his third term in the U.S. Senate by just over 3 points while outspending his Republican opponent at a four-to-one-clip.

Rosendale, the current state Commissioner of Securities and Insurance, spent just over $5 million in his campaign, equaling about $22 for every vote cast in his favor.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, outside political groups spent another $42 million on the race. 

That bought ads like this one from the National Republican Senatorial Committee PAC:

Narrator: "Jon Tester's got to go."

President Trump: "What Jon Tester did to this man is a disgrace ...”

Far more outside money was spent to oppose candidates than to support them.

A lot of it on ads like this one from the group Majority Forward, which spent money on behalf of Tester to attack Rosendale: 

Narrator: "Rosendale has taken big money from the insurance industry he’s suppose to regulate. Secretly worked with them to raise health insurance rates ...” 

The race in Montana lone seat in the U.S. House was less high-profile, but it still brought in millions in spending.

Republican Greg Gianforte spent over $4.5 million in his win over Democrat Kathleen Williams.

Gianforte won his first full term in the House by about 5 points. Williams spent over $3 million in the Democrats' attempt to gain a congressional seat that’s evaded them for more than two decades.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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