If you don’t have money, you can’t win.
That’s been the general consensus in politics for decades, but especially for the past 10 years, ever since Citizen United became the law of the land.
Many times, politicians will say they want to get money out of politics. Their actions always speak otherwise. They’ll decry money on the one hand, and then take it from every shady corporate character they can when you’re not looking.
And they know you’re not looking nearly 100% of the time.
The worst offenders are those that spend years talking about ‘the plague of dark money,’ only to turn around and jump ship and join those dark money outfits when their time in office is done.
Think Steve Bullock.
Anyways, here at the local level many of our city council candidates are trying to raise money.
They know if they raise enough of it, they won’t have to waste their time knocking on doors. Instead they can just send out a bunch of junk mail, inundate you with social media advertising, fill your inbox with spam, and litter their yard signs into as many lawns as possible.
This is what the ‘successful’ candidates will do.
The unsuccessful will do one of two things: most will bitch and moan that they can’t raise money, the game is rigged against them, and they’ll give up...aside from constantly playing around on social media. The other group - much, much smaller - will suck it up, knock on as many doors as they can, and generally try to win with all the chips stacked against them.
So really, 3 types of candidates: those with money that can win easily, those without that know they can’t win, and those without that know they probably can’t win, but will bust their balls trying anyways.
Which type are the 15 people running for city council?
Let’s dig into their finances and find out.
Jennifer Savage: This woman has raised $125 so far. She’s not bothering with a website or social media. I think she thinks her association with Six Pony Hitch and Spider McKnight is enough to carry her through, and sadly, she may be right. All of that money is loans to herself. She’s not even trying to raise money.
Kevin Hunt: This man has raised $2,253 so far and he’s spent nearly $2,000. Around $800 of that comes from loans. There are serious problems with this report, as there are no other contributions listed, meaning we have no idea where the other $1,400 or so is coming from. I have to be honest...I question some of these expenditures. For instance, $650 was given to BestBuy for a new laptop and 1-year-warranty so he could do finance reports. Over $450 was spent on a website, which I think is a bit much. Finally, $787 was spent to get 200 yard signs. This is a good use of money, though I think 200 is a bit high for your first run and most of those will probably end up in the garage, unused. I always think it’s better to use a local printer, with local workers, as opposed to a cheap firm in Texas, but that’s just me. I think the biggest problem Hunt will run into is not finding enough people that will put a sign in their yard. I know this from my previous runs. It's especially heartbreaking when a house says they will put a sign up, then a week later, your opponent’s sign is in their yard. Happened to me a lot in ‘19.
Sheena Winterer: This woman has raised over $3,500 and has spent nearly $700. She loaned herself $2,500. Most of the other people giving her money are realtors, many with Ink Realty, where I think she works. Her largest expenditure has been $86 for 100 magnets and 100 postcards.
Jane VanFossen: This woman, who filed on the last day, has not bothered to file a campaign finance report...despite them being due 10 days ago. I worry about candidates like this. If they can’t even file a simple report with the state about their own money, how are they going to follow all the money in the budget? They’re not, it’s that simple. For that reason, these candidates are the most appealing for the corrupt, powers-that-be in town. People like VanFossen can be molded into pliable and easy-to-manipulate puppets.
Jordan Hess: This man’s raised $5,660 so far and has spent $650. Most of the town’s entrenched Democratic monied class is giving to him. Besides the filing fee, his largest expenditure was $100 to the Montana Democratic Party in Helena for their voter access network. So far, he’s the only candidate that’s paid for this. The candidates that haven’t done this are way behind. For many, the Dem VAN will be cut-off to them, and for many, they can’t imagine the idea of using the GOP’s. Candidates that want to field a viable campaign will, however...though the last I heard, our state GOP did not pay to maintain their access to the network in off-years. This is one of the biggest failures of leadership I’ve seen in all my 8 years of covering Montana politics.
Rebecca Dawson: This woman has raised $112, though her report only shows $67…$27 in-kind from herself, and $40 from her bookkeeper. If this woman does not get into action very quickly, she’s not going to stand a chance. Right now she’s $5,500 behind, and I really don’t know how much the GOP can help her (see the above comment about the VAN, and let’s hope for her sake, the GOP is keeping up on it).
Dori Gilels: This favorite of Engen has two reports already. Combined, she’s raised $6,465 and has spent about $1,450. A lot of the city’s sleaze have donated. Her largest expenditure has been $420 to Westwood Creative for a voter mailing list. After that it was $363 for fundraising mailers.
Daniel Carlino: The underdog also has two reports. He’s raised nearly $4,000 so far and has spent almost $1,000. So far he’s spent $600 to get his website up. He spent another $253 on 2,000 “meet Daniel cards.” I think this is smart. That’s about all the door-knocking-handouts you need, and he got them at a good price. Remember, most people throw those away right after you leave their porch. It’s interesting to see the ‘rebel Dems’ that are giving to Carlino. These are typically folks that are not quite fully onboard with the Engen machine, and might even want to challenge it. One of the interesting things I noted is that Tom Winter gave him around $100. That’s fine, but I noticed Tom is listed as a project manager for the Pistol Creek Ranch, which is located in Idaho. Is this the same Tom Winter that’s currently suing the state, and who ran for congress last year? I wonder if he’s still living in Montana.
Mike Nugent: This guy’s raised more than anyone, $7,200 so far. His income report is a who’s-who of Democratic suck-ups. $1,500 went to Missoula’s RHD LLC for “development of campaign strategy, timeline, and resources,” and another $1,500 went to get his website up.
Alan Ault: This man has raised $0 and has spent $0. If he had any desire to win, I’m not seeing it. He hasn’t updated his Facebook page since August 2020. I’m not sure why he even filed.
Stacie Anderson: This woman has raised $5,660 and has spent $0. It’s really easy on these entrenched Democrats - right away you see the name Melanie Brock donating to them, and you know they’re part of the Engen machine. Her largest expenditure was $100 to the MT Dems for access to the VAN.
Bob Campbell: This guy has three finance reports already. He’s raised a little over $2,000 and has spent around $1,300. Big expenditures are $280 on 1,000 candidate cards and $242 on 1,000 fundraising envelopes.
Kristen Jordan: This woman has raised $680 so far and has spent $0. Her website still has all the placeholder text. It just doesn’t seem like she really cares. She’s loaned herself $500 and the rest of her money has come from Mayor Engen. Her campaign report is totally wrong, with things listed as debt that should be expenditures. I can see that she’s spent around $50 on her website and over $260 with WestRidge Creative for “Proj mgt work: misc calls, emails, meetings, initial logo work, communications brief, work on paper "Why Run?", initial fundraising, walksheet devel”
Tom Taylor: This man has not bothered to file a campaign finance report, despite the fact that he filed for office way back in April. I just don’t think he’s a serious candidate. Maybe he was some point earlier this year, but it just seems like he’s given up. That’s sad, because this seems like a winnable ward.
Madelein Owen: This woman has not bothered to file a campaign finance report, she has no presence online, and I’ve never heard of her. She doesn’t seem like a serious candidate at all.
Ward 6 seems all but lost, and I suspect Engen will have his team pull Jordan through, creating another easy puppet vote for him.
Ward 2 and Ward 5 are going to be the only competitive wards this year, mainly because you have two people that aren’t afraid to say they’re conservative, and aren’t afraid to side with the local GOP.
On June 22, the Missoula County Republican Party mentioned on Facebook that they would begin vetting candidates “next week.” That week has come and gone, and I can only hope they contacted some candidates and offered their support.
But you know what? I doubt they have. The local GOP has been an incompetent mess for years. Like I said above, I don’t think they could help candidates identify conservative voters even if they wanted to, because they don’t think that’s a good use of their money, to keep access to that VAN.
If Ward 2 and Ward 5 don’t get that VAN, they’re in big trouble. Both of their opponents have it already on the Dem side, and that’s a huge, huge advantage in fundraising, and perhaps more importantly, identifying houses you can put a yard sign up at.
What the hell is the Missoula GOP thinking?!?
Ward 4 will be an easy Dem win this year, as will be Ward 3. I’d like to see Carlino put up a good fight, and I suspect he will, but the forces arrayed against him are too strong. I suspect he’ll lose, get angry again, create a huff, and make future runs even more difficult. Eventually he slink away from the political scene, or possibly stay...becoming a joke like me.
Ward 1 has turned into a more interesting race than I thought it would. It seems like anything could happen there. We’ll see how adamant those candidates are about getting out and knocking on doors in incredibly hot weather.
Ballots go out in some of these races on August 25 for the September 14 primary. So that gives people 7 full weeks to get their message out there.