HELENA, Mont. — Groups trying to influence the outcome of a Montana Supreme Court race are on track to set a record for the most fundraising collected for a justice seat.
Lee Newspapers of Montana reports that this year’s race between Dirk Sandefur and Kristen Juras, fundraising by political action committees has reached a reported total of $518,262 and the candidates themselves have collected another $633,868.
Based on inflation-adjusted totals dating back to 1990, the combined committee and campaign fundraising for Sandefur is about $900,000, setting a record for the most money collected to support a Montana Supreme Court candidate.
Juras and her supporters have raised roughly $250,000.
“It’s very much in line with trends across the country where outside spending has been growing, especially the rise of secret money or so-called dark money,” said Alicia Bannon from the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute at New York University School of Law that studies spending in judicial campaigns.
Bannon said dark money is an issue because it does not allow the public to see who is trying to sway elections and doesn’t reveal potential conflicts of interest.
On group pushing to sway the election is the Judicial Fairness Initiative, which is funded by its parent organization, the Republican State Leadership Committee. IRS filings released in May and compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics show that the group had raised almost $20 million so far in 2016. A spokesman did not return a request for comment to discuss how much the group might spend to support Juras.
Montana’s judicial races are nonpartisan but GOP groups have come out against Sandefur, calling him soft on crime.
Sandefur said those distortions of his judicial record were outright lies
The group Montana Trial Lawyers Association voted to support Sandefur. The trial lawyers’ group and other attorneys have raised more than $400,000 since early last year and about three-quarters of that had not been spent by last week. About $40,000 so far has been paid to develop ads or campaign strategy, but few actual advertising slots have been purchased yet.