Enviro group spending $500K to defeat Gianforte

A Montana-based environmental group said Monday it will spend $500,000 to help re-elect Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock and defeat his Republican rival, Greg Gianforte.

The Montana Conservation Voters Action Fund, a political action committee, will use the money to fund a door-to-door canvassing effort to encourage people to sign up for absentee ballots, and to vote in the governor’s race.

Clayton Elliott, executive director for Montana Conservation Voters, told MTN News the effort will target nearly 28,000 households, primarily in Missoula and Bozeman.

“Gianforte just doesn’t get it; he’s supported groups that want to auction off our public lands to the highest bidder,” Elliott said. “We already have a governor who understands that Montanans cherish our public lands and outdoor heritage.”

MCV Action Fund is the third outside group to report spending a significant amount of money to influence Montana’s gubernatorial race; the others are the Democratic and Republican governors associations.

Bullock, the Montana Democratic Party and their supporters have been hammering away at Gianforte over the public-lands issue, claiming that Gianforte supports efforts to transfer management of federal public lands to the state and has opposed public access over his own property.

Gianforte has said the claims are false, and that he is a strong supporter of public access to streams and public lands.

Gianforte sued the state in 2009, saying a public easement through his property to the East Gallatin River was erroneous. State fish-and-game officials and Gianforte later met and agreed on locating the access next to his property. Gianforte said the public was never denied access to the river.

Aaron Flint, spokesman for the Gianforte campaign, said Monday it’s no surprise that MCV is spending money to defeat Gianforte, since many of its board members are or have been donors to Bullock’s campaign.

The MCV Action Fund’s money will come from the national League of Conservation Voters Political Engagement Fund, Elliott said.

Elliott said the MCV Action Fund also is adding Gianforte to its 2016 “Dirty Dozen in the States” list of anti-environmental candidates.

Elliott said Gianforte has donated money to groups such as the Property and Environment Research Center, which has sided with opponents of stream access in court cases.