HELENA — Republican candidate for Montana governor Greg Gianforte is telling supporters that he will match all campaign contributions dollar for dollar, after already spending about $1 million in his effort to unseat Democratic incumbent Steve Bullock.
Gianforte made his comments during a question-and-answer session in Huntley on July 21 that was recorded by a volunteer for the Montana Democratic Party. After asking the audience to donate to the campaign, he told them that he and his wife Susan are “all in.”
“We’ve made the commitment,” Gianforte said, according to the audio recording. “We’re going to match all contributions dollar for dollar, personally. Because we think we can do better.
“I firmly believe that to whom much is given, much is expected,” he added.
Event organizer Becky Robison on Friday confirmed the Bozeman technology entrepreneur’s statements at the session.
Gianforte had donated about $947,000 in cash and in-kind contributions to his campaign as of July 27, according to campaign finance reports. He also received more money from individual donors than Bullock did in the last reporting period — $148,000 compared to Bullock’s $133,000.
But Bullock’s campaign had $1.5 million in reserve at the end of July, compared to $74,765 in the bank for Gianforte.
Montana State University political science professor David Parker said Gianforte’s pledge doesn’t necessarily reflect a sense of fundraising urgency, but is more likely a strategy to show would-be donors who are reluctant to give because of his wealth that he is willing to invest in himself.
“One of the risks of running for office when you’re a well-known, successful business person is that people are reluctant to give to you,” Parker said. “I suspect the idea is that you come in and put your money on the line and I’ll put my own money on the line, as well.”
Parker added that he has never heard of a Montana candidate for office making such a pledge before, but that presidential candidate Donald Trump made a similar promise in June. Trump told his supporters in a fundraising email that he will match every dollar contributed over 48 hours, up to $2 million.
Gianforte did not say at the Huntley event whether there would be a time limit or a ceiling to his pledge. When asked if there would be a limit, Gianforte communications director Aaron Flint emailed a statement that did not answer the question, but said instead that special interest groups from outside the state are pouring money into the race to support Bullock.
“Greg is a job creator, not a career politician,” Flint said in the statement. “He’s humbled by the outpouring of support he’s received all across the state, and will continue raising money to ensure Montanans can fight back against the out of state special interests.”
Bullock campaign spokesman Jason Pitt said Gianforte’s pledge to match contributions is evidence that Gianforte wants to buy the election.
“But the fact is Gianforte’s attempt to buy votes won’t erase his record of misleading Montanans and it certainly won’t erase Steve Bullock’s record of creating jobs, growing the economy, standing up for our public lands and making Montana great for future generations,” Pitt said.