Montana U.S. Senate race on pace to challenge fundraising records

U.S. Capitol MTN
Posted at 7:38 PM, Apr 16, 2024

HELENA — With more than six months still to go before Montana votes select a U.S. senator, the closely watched race is shaping up to challenge records for campaign spending – just like other hotly contested Senate races in Montana in 2018 and 2020.

Monday was the first campaign finance deadline for federal candidates after Montana’s primary fields were set. Candidates submitted updated reports to the Federal Election Commission, laying out their fundraising and spending for the first three months of 2024.

To this point, Democratic Sen. Jon Tester and Republican challenger Tim Sheehy have already raised significantly more money than Tester and Republican Matt Rosendale brought in for the entire 2018 Senate campaign – and the pace of spending is only going to increase as we move toward November.

Jon Tester Q1 Fundraising

In the first quarter of the year, Tester’s campaign reported raising just over $8 million. They spent almost $6.6 million over the same period, but they still had more than $12.6 million in the bank at the start of April.

Since the start of 2023, Tester has brought in a total of nearly $28.7 million – compared to around $21 million for the entirety of his last reelection campaign in 2018.

Tim Sheehy Q1 Fundraising

Sheehy, a businessman and Navy veteran from Gallatin County, brought in almost $3.1 million for his campaign in January, February and March, including a $500,000 loan of his own money. The campaign spent more than $2.4 million and had $1.9 million left in cash on hand.

Sheehy has raised a total of $8.4 million since launching his campaign last June. $1.6 million of that is from personal contributions and loans he’s made.

In 2018, Rosendale raised a total of around $5.7 million in his run against Tester.

The 2018 Senate race was Montana’s most expensive, with more than $63 million in spending from the candidates and outside groups – until that record was smashed in the 2020 Senate race between incumbent Republican Sen. Steve Daines and Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, which featured over $160 million in spending.

At this point in the 2020 race, Daines had raised almost $8 million, while Bullock – who launched his campaign late – had brought in $3.3 million. Bullock went on to raise a total of nearly $43 million by November, and Daines raised $27 million.

After Rosendale dropped out of this year’s Senate race, Sheehy was left with two challengers in the GOP primary – both of whom have decried the role of money in the election. Brad Johnson, formerly Montana secretary of state and member of the Public Service Commission, reported raising just over $16,500 for his campaign in the first quarter of 2024 – $15,000 of it from his own money. Charles Walking Child, a 2022 U.S. House candidate from Helena, told MTN he intended to keep his campaign spending below the federal reporting threshold of $5,000, so he wouldn't have to submit a report to the FEC.

Michael Hummert, of Helena, Tester’s lone challenger in the Democratic primary, also did not have a first-quarter report listed on the FEC website as of Wednesday.

Of course, these reports only cover what the candidates themselves are raising and spending. A report from CNN says outside groups aligned with Republicans and Democrats have already announced plans to reserve at least $93 million in Montana airtime for ads during the general election. The Montana Senate race is seeing more attention than ever as it could be key to determining which party controls the Senate.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include Charles Walking Child's statement that his campaign would remain below the minimum fundraising threshold that would require an FEC report.