HELENA — A contested donation of $500,000 gave Republican Rick Hill a fundraising win over Democrat Steve Bullock in campaign reports filed Monday in the race for governor.
Bullock reported raising about $321,000 in September and much of October. That fell far short of the whopping $733,000 that Hill reported for the same fundraising period.
The Republican Party earlier disclosed it gave Hill $500,000 during a six-day window that opened earlier this month after a federal judge threw out the state's contribution limits. An appeals court later reinstated the donation limits, and Bullock is arguing in court that Hill should have to return the money.
Bullock, the state's attorney general, is making the GOP donation to Hill a major issue in his campaign. The GOP won't have to reveal the source of its funding until Thursday.
"I'm proud that I can say two things Congressman Hill can't: All of our contributions are completely legal, and we have a strong fundraising base," Bullock said in a prepared statement. "I'm energized by the support we've received and proud we're running a law-abiding campaign that Montanans can be proud of."
Hill, a former congressman, now has $208,000 heading into the final two weeks of the campaign, compared with $72,000 held by Bullock.
The Hill campaign is adamant that the large donation was perfectly legal when it was taken. Hill is also maneuvering in court to get the federal judge that initially allowed unlimited donations to sanction Bullock for going to state court in the matter.
"We're proud of the fundraising success we have had, and appreciate the generosity of the Montana Republican Party, who just like thousands of Montanans, is committed to electing Rick Hill as our next governor," said Brock Lowrance, spokesman for Hill's campaign.
Shortly after receiving the abnormally large party donation, Hill spent more than $620,000 on new advertising — including one purchase of $392,881 on Oct. 16.
Under state law, a candidate for governor is limited to accepting a maximum of $22,600 from all political party committees. An individual can only donate up to $630 to a gubernatorial candidate.
Hill's donors included 25 individuals who gave more than the $630 limit to gubernatorial candidates. The contributions ranged from $660 to $2,970. The campaign said it returned all but a handful of those donations because they came outside the window where the limits were lifted.
Republican candidate for attorney general Tim Fox was also the beneficiary of a large donation during the small window, receiving $32,000 from the state GOP.
Fox also received a few donations from individuals above the normal maximum amount of $310 for such a candidate — including $810 from GOP congressional candidate Steve Daines.
He reported Monday raising $131,000 in the fundraising period.
Democrat Pam Bucy, running against Fox, reported collecting about $129,000, which included a large donation of $35,000 from the Montana Democratic Party. Bucy, however, opted to refund that donation after the appeals court re-instated the state's contribution limits.
That left Fox with an edge in campaign cash going into the stretch run. The Republican held $63,000 compared to $51,000 for Bucy.