In the past three months, political-action committees bankrolled by an Illinois billionaire have spent $1.2 million on radio and TV ads in Montana, promoting Republican U.S. Senate candidate Matt Rosendale.
The so-called “Super PACs” are financed primarily by Richard Uihlein, the owner of a shipping-and-packaging materials company based in Wisconsin. The Washington Post reported this week that Uihlein has spent $20 million this year on federal races – more than any other single person.
Rosendale, Montana’s state auditor, is one of four men vying for the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester this year.
The other Republican candidates are Big Sky businessman Troy Downing, former state District Judge Russell Fagg of Billings and state Sen. Al Olszewski of Kalispell.
The Tester race – one of several contests nationwide that could decide control of the U.S. Senate this year – has already been attracting big money from donors and groups across the country.
But it’s unusual to see large, independent expenditures by outside groups picking favorites in a party primary contest. The primary election is June 5.
The Uihlein-financed Restoration PAC reported spending $518,000 last month to produce and place a TV ad that criticizes Tester and praises Rosendale as the “real deal.” The ad began running on TV stations across Montana earlier this month.
Another group funded mostly by Uihlein, Americas PAC, reported that it has spent $700,000 since late December in Montana on radio ads promoting Rosendale.
Matt Connelly, a spokesman for Restoration PAC, told MTN News Thursday that it’s committed to keeping Republicans in control of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House, and is focusing now on Senate races.
“We feel Mr. Rosendale is a solid conservative who has a great opportunity to defeat Jon Tester this fall,” he said.
Connelly said the group analyzes U.S. Senate races across the country on a “day-to-day basis” and decides where to spend its money. He declined to say whether Restoration PAC plans further spending in Montana.
Restoration PAC also is backing candidates in contested Republican U.S. Senate primaries in Wisconsin and West Virginia.
Connelly said Americas PAC is a separate organization from Restoration PAC. The PACs operate independently from the candidates.
Rosendale’s campaign said conservative groups and political figures have recognized “how incredibly strong of a candidate Matt Rosendale is, and that he’s the only one in this race who can defeat Jon Tester in November.”
The Washington Post reported that Uihlein, the founder of packaging-and-shipping manufacturer ULINE, has been mostly funding “insurgent Republican candidates,” and that his family foundation also supports conservative think tanks.