When it comes to personal wealth, the two leading candidates in Montana’s May 25 special congressional election couldn’t be farther apart.
Democrat Rob Quist, a musician and songwriter from Creston, has a negative net worth, according to his financial disclosure form, and reported just shy of $29,000 of personal income last year -- including about $15,000 in Social Security payments. Quist is 69 years old.
Congressional candidates must file financial-disclosure forms with the U.S. House clerk, listing assets and income. The form requires candidates to list only a range of the dollar value of each.
Republican Greg Gianforte, 55, who co-founded a Bozeman software firm in the mid-1990s and sold the company for $1.8 billion in 2012, reported 2016 income ranging from $2.3 million to $15.7 million – and assets valued between $65 million and $315 million.
He also included 110 pages in his financial-disclosure report detailing his various stock, bond and property holdings, indicating the value of his family’s assets is close to the middle of that range.
Gianforte told MTN News last week that if he’s elected, he and his wife, Susan, will put their assets in a blind trust.
“There will be a complete separation,” he said. “Personal assets should not influence someone’s decision-making in office.”
The Gianfortes also have a family charitable trust that reported net assets of $134 million in 2014 and reported giving away $43 million from 2005-2014, to a range of local nonprofits and cultural organizations, religious education and outreach, and conservative public-policy groups.
Gianforte, Quist and Libertarian Mark Wicks are competing for Montana’s only U.S. House seat, to fill the vacancy created when Republican Ryan Zinke resigned March 1 to become U.S. Interior secretary, under President Donald Trump.
The election is May 25 – just seven weeks away.
Quist, a co-founder of the Mission Mountain Wood Band in the early 1970s and a member of his own band, Great Northern, has made his living as a musician and songwriter.
Last month, it was reported that Quist incurred about $27,000 in unpaid debt and property taxes the past decade, which he said stemmed from financial problems when he had high medical costs related to a botched gall-bladder surgery in 1996.
Quist said he paid off the debts within the last two years – and that his troubles with medical debt make him more like the average Montanan, and therefore a better choice as U.S. representative.
“What I’m hearing is that people are saying the best reason to vote for me is that I’ve gone through the same things that they have,” he told MTN News. “Who better to stand up for the people of Montana, than someone who has lived on the ground and faced the same issues.
“I would say that someone who’s a millionaire has never faced these things would not be as good a representative for the people of Montana.”
Quist’s reported earnings last year included performance income from community theaters, foundations, a guest ranch and school.
He also reported that his campaign, which he said has raised $750,000, has paid him $2,000 in “salary” this year and that his wife, Bonni, earned $21,600 from her real estate business this year.
Quist said he has $275,000 to $565,000 in liabilities, in the form of a mortgage on his home, a second mortgage and a line of credit – and no other assets.
Gianforte’s disclosure form revealed that he and his wife have invested the bulk of their money with professionally managed funds, which have placed it in a variety of stocks, bonds and mutual funds that invest in various stocks and bonds.
As for the suggestion that a multimillionaire can’t do the job of representing Montanans, Gianforte said he’s leave that question to Montana voters.
“This is a decision that Montanans get to make,” he said. “My wife and I, we’ve raised our kids here, we’ve prospered in Montana. I feel a deep sense of obligation to serve so that other people can prosper.
“I’m sure Mr. Quist is a good musician. I’m a business guy. Montanans can decide who they want.”
The Montana Democratic Party and Quist’s campaign have criticized Gianforte for owning stock in pharmaceutical companies, Wall Street banks and firms that “ship jobs overseas,” saying that ownership flies in the face of his campaign promises to work against special interests.
Gianforte dismissed the criticism, saying if you own funds that invest in the top stocks, you’re going to own stock in large, mainstream companies – and that he’s going to put the money in a blind trust anyway, if elected.