HELENA – Committees for and against Initiative 185 — the ballot measure that raises tobacco taxes and makes permanent Montana’s Medicaid expansion program — have now raised or spent more than $17 million on the campaign.
One of two tobacco firms bankrolling the anti-I-185 campaign put another $3.6 million into the campaign last month, and Montana hospitals ponied up about $2.4 million during the same period to support the measure.
The battle over I-185 is easily the second-most expensive campaign this election season in Montana, surpassed only by the state’s marquee U.S. Senate race.
I-185, supported by hospitals, other health-care organizations, labor unions and low-income groups, would increase the state tax on cigarettes by $2 a pack and on other tobacco products by 67%.
It also removes a June 2019 expiration date on Medicaid expansion, which provides health coverage to nearly 100,000 low-income Montana adults.
The measure, if approved by voters next month, would raise about $70 million a year. Up to $26 million of that money would finance part of the state’s share of Medicaid expansion, which is projected to bring about $500 million of federal money a year into the state.
Two tobacco firms – Altria Client Services, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes, and RIA Services Co., which makes Camel cigarettes – have now spent or contributed $12.4 million on the campaign to defeat I-185. That money accounts for almost all of the spending against it.
Supporters of I-185 have now raised or spent about $4.8 million on their campaign. About $3.5 million of that money has come from MHA, the lobby representing hospitals in the state, and another $120,000 has come directly from individual hospitals.
Hospitals have been a big beneficiary of Medicaid expansion, which pays for many low-income clients whose bills might otherwise have to be written off as charity care.
Other donors to the pro-I-185 campaign include labor unions SEIU 775 and the Montana Public Employees Federation, Planned Parenthood of Montana, AARP-Montana, the Montana Human Rights Network and the Montana Budget and Policy Center.
Most of the money is going to pay for TV and other broadcast and digital ads.
Last month, opponents of the measure reported spending almost $3.7 million on TV ads, while supporters spent about $2 million on TV ad production and airtime.
-Mike Dennison reporting for MTN News