- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 1, 2016

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Gov. Steve Bullock added more than $180,000 to his campaign war chest and had more than $1 million in the bank, as he attempts to fend off a challenge from deep-pocketed Republican, Greg Gianforte.

Campaign finance statements filed with the state on Tuesday show Gianforte raised about $173,000 in the first two months of the year in his bid to oust the Democratic governor.

The amount of money raised thus far is just the beginning of what some analysts expect to be one of the state’s most expensive gubernatorial campaigns. That’s largely because of the fundraising prowess already demonstrated by both candidates.

“I think we can expect both candidates to raise record amounts because this is truly a competitive race,” said Denise Roth Barber, managing director of the Helena-based National Institute on Money in State Politics, also known as followthemoney.org.

Still unknown is what role outside money will play in the campaign. And it remains to be seen how much of Gianforte’s own fortune he will use to finance his campaign.

Gianforte has called on Bullock to refuse money from out-of-state political action committees, a challenge the governor has called “disingenuous” because of Gianforte’s personal wealth and the independent expenditures that could pour into the race from outside groups.

In 2012, Gianforte made millions of dollars when he sold his company, RightNow Technologies, to Oracle for $1.8 billion.

PACs and other groups gave Bullock $4,470 during the most recent reporting period, which covers contributions and spending from January 1 through February 25.

But the bulk of Bullock’s funders were individual donors. All of Gianforte’s money came from individual donors, according to his campaign statement.

By most accounts, the Bullock-Gianforte matchup will bring increased scrutiny because of the potential for spending from independent committees and other outside groups, Barber said.

In the 2012 gubernatorial race, candidates combined for nearly $5.2 million in contributions, according to data compiled by the money-tracking institute.

Bullock raised nearly $1.9 million during his 2012 campaign, while Republican Richard Hill raised nearly $2.1 million.

In his latest campaign filing, Bullock reported more than $1 million in cash on hand, after spending $75,000 during the first two months of the year.

Gianforte spent more than $175,000 - more than he collected - during the latest reporting period. He had about $330,000 left in the bank.

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