Only days before absentee ballots will be mailed to Montana voters, the only statewide congressional election of 2017 has been thrown into pandemonium following revelations that GOP nominee Greg Gianforte invests in Russian companies under U.S. sanctions.
"The race to fill Montana's vacant congressional seat has a huge shakeup," ABC-Fox anchor David Winter concluded while introducing a story by reporter Kolby Crossley. "ABC Fox Montana has learned that Republican Greg Gianforte has financial ties to two Russian companies that have been sanctioned by the United States."
"Gianforte owns close to 150 thousand dollars’ worth of shares in Vaneck Vectors Russia ETF and more than 92 thousand dollars in the IShares MSCF Russia ETF fund" which have significant holdings in Gazprom and Rosneft.
With absentee ballots for the May 25 special election going out on Monday, the timing of this Russian investment scandal couldn't come at a worse time for Gianforte.
"It plays directly into the narrative that Gianforte’s campaign doesn’t want to unfold: that Gianforte is a wealthy person from New Jersey, who moved to Montana to build a trophy home and fence off public land while getting rich by outsourcing and other money schemes like these Russian ties," explained an analysis at the anonymous Montana Cowgirl Blog.
"And it’s made even worse by the fact that he tried to hide this money," continued the analysis, while pivoting to similarities with Donald Trump's scandals. "Just like the current administration’s illegal ties to Russian spies, Russian Money and Russian influence, the cover-up is almost a bigger story."
Gianforte is facing Democrat Rob Quist, who is an iconic figure in Montana.
Montana's lone congressional seat was vacated when Ryan Zinke was confirmed as Interior Secretary. Republicans have held the seat since former Democratic Party Congressman Pat Willians announced he would retire after winning his 9th term during the 1994 GOP landslide.
Republicans are nervous about holding the seat and have been, "sounding the alarms" with the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) investing $1.2 million in tv ads with the Congressional Leadership Fund Super PAC investing another $800,000 in ads.
While Republicans are going all-in to hold the seat, Politico reporter Elena Schneider had a bombshell report on national Democrats withholding cash from Montana's special election. This despite the surge beyond traditional support that Democrats saw with James Thompson in the Kansas special election and Jon Ossoff in the first round of the Georgia special election.
While the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committe (DCCC) may be largely surrendering in Montana, independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has promised to visit Montana to campaign for Quist. Both Sanders and Quist are supporters of Single Payer Health Care reform.
Gianforte's financial ties to US-sanctioned Russian companies were originally unearthed by Ben Jacobs, a Washington, DC political reporter for the Guardian.
The Quist campaign is hammering Gianforte's Russia connections.
Quist campaign spokesperson Tina Olechowski told the Guardian, “Montana voters deserve to know why Greg Gianforte held on to his shady Russian investments after Putin invaded Ukraine, and again when Russia was accused of interfering in the presidential election."
“Instead Gianforte kept his Russian ties secret during his failed run for governor last year," she continued. Gianforte was the only statewide Republican candidate to lose in Montana last year, when Donald Trump carried Montana by over 100,000 votes.
In fact, when the NRCC attacked Quist for performing at a nudist resort in Idaho, the Quist campaign told USA Today reporter Jessica Estepa, "This is just a naked attempt to distract voters from (Republican rival) Greg Gianforte's shady Russian investments."
Not only are absentee ballots being mailed on Monday, but Saturday night Q2 news anchor Jay Kohn, Chief Political Reporter Mike Dennison and Mikenzie Frost will be hosting a candidates debate that will almost certainly focus on Gianforte's Russian connection. The debate will be broadcast live on KTVQ in Billings, KBZK in Bozeman, KXLF in Butte, KRTV in Great Falls, KTVH in Helena and KPAX in Missoula. The debate will also stream live on all Montana Television Network websites and begins at 7PM local time.
Watch last night's ABC Fox Montana report on Gianforte's Russian investments: