Greg Gianforte in Sin City

In case you missed it, New Jersey billionaire, and dark money king Greg Gianforte, is attending an annual Republican Governor's Association (RGA) conference, one of the biggest congregations of donors and political insiders.

He's flying off to Sin City and he doesn't want Montanans to know he has donated $100,000 to the RGA and has supported dark money groups like Americans for Prosperity.

Greg Gianforte might think that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas – but he can't hide his record of being one of Montana’s top funders of dark money groups.

`Exploratory’ MT gov candidate attends GOP gov group's conference in Las Vegas
Mike Dennison // MTN News

HELENA - Montanan Republican gubernatorial hopeful Greg Gianforte is attending the Republican Governors Association conference this week in Las Vegas – although he’s still calling himself an “exploratory candidate” for 2016.

Gianforte, co-founder of a Bozeman software-development firm and a stalwart in GOP politics in Montana, is listed on the RGA conference agenda as a “2016 gubernatorial candidate.”

The RGA – and its counterpart, the Democratic Governors Association – are primarily political organizations that help gubernatorial candidates get elected, raising and spending money on campaigns for their respective party’s candidate.

Gianforte campaign spokesman Aaron Flint said it’s hardly news that Gianforte is attending the RGA conference. Gianforte and his wife, Susan, are executive roundtable members of the organization, he said, and have been visiting with GOP governors for years.

Gianforte also has donated $100,000 to the RGA since 2012, including $50,000 this year.

Gianforte declared in August he is exploring a run against Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock in 2016 and proceeded to raise $253,000 in campaign funds the next six weeks. He is not yet an official candidate, Flint said.

While Gianforte is the most active Republican in the 2016 gubernatorial race, two other Republicans have said they are running: Public Service Commission Chairman Brad Johnson of East Helena and political unknown Mark Perea of Helena.

Gianforte’s attendance at the RGA event also prompted criticism from the Montana Democratic Party, which said it shows that Gianforte approves of groups that raise “dark money,” like the RGA.

“Dark money” refers to funds raised by nonprofit groups that don’t have to report their specific donors or spending, and sometimes use that money for campaign-related purposes.

The RGA and the DGA – which Bullock chairs – each has a nonprofit group that raises some money and doesn’t report the details. However, the bulk of funds raised and spent by each organization is reported publicly.

Republicans in Montana have called Bullock a hypocrite for criticizing dark money but then chairing the DGA, which has a dark-money group. Bullock has said the nonprofit group won’t spend money on campaigns while he’s chair, and has called on the RGA to make the same commitment.

Gianforte has said he wants “transparency” in elections, but hasn’t indicated whether he supports a new state law intending to force more public reporting of so-called dark money.

Flint also said Democrats’ suggestions that Gianforte has been inconsistent or dishonest about dark money are absurd.

“Bullock said he’s against dark money and yet Bullock is personally raising dark money,” Flint said. “It is outright hypocrisy. There’s simply no comparison.”

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