Gianforte won — and took his seat in Congress the week after he pleaded guilty to his crime, bolstered by about $2.4 million in all-but-unrestricted “super PAC” cash that overwhelmed his erstwhile opponent, Democrat Rob Quist.
Gianforte himself had helped seed the laissez-faire political money system that made his victory possible earlier in the decade, having contributed significant funds through his nonprofit Gianforte Family Charitable Trust to several conservative organizations leading legal efforts to dismantle federal campaign finance regulations, a Center for Public Integrity investigation reveals.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, which over the years has fought campaign finance limits in cases such as Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, is a prime example. Gianforte’s nonprofit has given the group, which does not publicly disclose its donors, $133,500 from 2008 through 2015, a Center for Public Integrity analysis of federal tax filings indicates.
The Citizens United decision gave rise to super PACs — political committees that may raise unlimited amounts of corporate cash and spend it on elections like his.
Gianforte, a tech entrepreneur and one of Montana’s wealthiest residents, is among a small but wealthy group of political kingmakers, including Charles and David Koch and Richard Uihlein, who’ve quietly bankrolled a long legal assault on the nation's campaign finance laws.
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Gianforte, whose office declined multiple requests from the Center for Public Integrity for comment, is among Republican members of Congress actively campaigning for another term in November 2018. His re-election campaign in fact began in June, even before he took his seat in Congress to replace Ryan Zinke, whom President Donald Trump tapped as secretary of the interior.
During Montana’s special congressional election, Gianforte’s campaign raised about $3.5 million, not counting $1.5 million Gianforte loaned his own campaign. Quist’s campaign raised even more.
But on a parallel track, the House Speaker Paul Ryan-backed Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC single-handedly invested another $2.4 million into Gianforte’s special election campaign, with the vast majority of that money going toward advertisements attacking Quist, who had but a fraction of such super PAC aid.
Expect the Congressional Leadership Fund, which did not return requests for comment, to be back in 2018, if it sees fit. Other super PACs could certainly rush to Gianforte’s aid, too.
Bopp picked as counsel
In an appropriate twist, Gianforte's campaign has enlisted the services of the Bopp Law Firm, paying nearly $5,000 for legal services this year. Jim Bopp, the firm’s namesake, was a driving legal force behind several key campaign finance rulings this century, including Citizens United.
In an interview, Bopp said one of his associates who lives in Bozeman, Montana, is aiding Gianforte’s campaign. In addition, Gianforte’s campaign has so far also spent almost $47,000 for legal services from Foley & Lardner, the law firm where campaign finance deregulation champion Cleta Mitchell practices.
Gianforte’s potential congressional opponents are hardly thrilled by these developments.