So the civic-minded citizenry of Missoula is responsible for about 10 percent of all the political donations that come out of Montana (see “By the Numbers” above). That’s not bad, considering that we only make up about 5 percent of the state’s population. But while the Independent’s resident wonks were conducting their weekly research into local campaign finances, they couldn’t help but wonder, who’s giving what to whom? After all, what better way is there to gauge the Garden City’s political desires? How else could they measure where our city is throwing its ever-so-slender economic weight? And when it comes right down to it, aren’t you just a little bit curious?
So they licked their pencil points and did the math, all with a view to determining who’s getting the most oats in this horse race, as well as who some of Missoula’s most notable donors are. Think of it as a city-wide audit for the election season.
According to the Federal Elections Commission (FEC), first of all, it turns out that Missoulians are lodging most of their financial support, far and away, behind Brian Schweitzer; the Democratic challenger for Montana’s junior senatorial seat has raked in $35,634 from Missoula so far in the 1999-2000 election cycle. Pulling up second is his opponent, incumbent Sen. Conrad Burns, who has taken $26,100 from local donors. And coming in a distant third is Nancy Keenan, who has received $16,862 from Garden City contributors in her race for Montana’s lone seat in the U.S. House.
Interesting range, no? But if Missoulians’ political spending habits seem diverse, so too are the folks themselves who have opened up their checkbooks in the hopes of oiling the bureaucratic machine. Put in other terms, records show that Missoula’s political climate is not as tepid as it often feels. To wit, Missoula’s low-resolution rock star, Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament, has given $2,000 to Ralph Nader’s campaign, according to the FEC. Writer and Missoulian outdoor columnist Greg Tollefson, meanwhile, has doled out $750 to Schweitzer. Commentator and former congressman Pat Williams has made a $350 contribution to the political wing of the Sallie Mae student loan company. And perhaps it’s not surprising that one of the city’s biggest political contributors is also its richest man, railroad and construction magnate Dennis Washington. Over the past year, he’s been hedging his bets, making two donations totaling $900 to the Montana State Democratic Committee, while also giving $2,000 to Republican congressional hopeful Dennis Rehberg, $1,000 to Conrad Burns, $1,000 to George W. Bush, and another grand to Idaho’s incumbent Republican Rep. Michael Simpson. Washington’s wife, interior designer Phyllis Washington, likewise gave $1,000 to Rehberg, $1500 to Burns and, early last year, a hopeful donation of $1,000 to Elizabeth Dole.
Of course, in and among these somewhat predictable contributions to mainstream candidates, there were also some wild-card gifts that were sent out bearing Missoula postmarks. One woman, for instance, contributed generously to the now-defunct campaign of New York adulterer Rudy Giuliani. Several checks were sent to far-right-wingers Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes in the earlier days of their presidential campaigns. Another sum from Missoula went to the Libertarian National Committee. And one fellow made four separate donations to the all-but-forgotten pretender to the Oval Office, Lyndon Larouche. And you thought small-town politics was boring. All you have to do to make things interesting is just add money.