HELENA - Two political newcomers running as Republicans for the state Public Service Commission have staked out big campaign fundraising leads over their opponents in the June 8 Republican primary election.
Bill Gallagher, a Helena attorney running in western Montana's District 5, reported Thursday that he's raised $13,800 in campaign funds through Sunday, including $7,000 of his own money.
That's almost seven times the amount raised by his Republican primary opponent, former Montana Secretary of State Brad Johnson, who had garnered $2,100 in campaign funds, including $1,500 from his own pocket.
Yet whoever wins the District 5 Republican primary will face a well-funded incumbent: Democratic Commissioner Ken Toole of Helena, who has no primary opposition, reported raising $40,600 in campaign funds through Sunday.
District 5 includes Helena, Kalispell, Polson and three counties along the Rocky Mountain Front. The five-member Public Service Commission regulated utilities in Montana.
Gallagher had about 70 individual donors, including several prominent Republicans, and loaned his campaign $7,000 of his own funds. He also spent about $4,000 of his own money on campaign signs, listing that expense as a campaign debt. Gallagher had $2,300 left in his campaign account as of Sunday.
Johnson had only five donors, outside of his personal funds. He had not purchased any advertising or campaign material.
Toole, who's running for a second term on the PSC, raked in money from more than 400 individual donors, including many prominent Democrats across the state. He reported spending nearly $14,000, including $8,500 on printed materials, but still had $26,800 remaining in his campaign account.
In the state's other contested PSC race, 25-year-old freelance writer and political activist Travis Kavulla of Great Falls reported raising $12,700, or more than twice the $6,000 raised by his Republican primary opponent in District 1, state Sen. Jerry Black of Shelby.
District 1 covers 19 counties across north-central and northeastern Montana. The winner of the GOP primary will take on former state Sen. Don Ryan of Great Falls for this open seat, which is being vacated by retiring Commission Chairman Greg Jergeson, D-Chinook.