- Associated Press - Thursday, November 3, 2016

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Montana residents inundated with TV ads about gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte now have proof of just how much they’ve seen of him: A nonprofit investigative journalism organization says he’s aired more campaign ads than all other candidates in the nation seeking to win statewide elections.

The Bozeman businessman’s 34,661 ads that have aired on broadcast television since the campaign make him No. 1 for the country, the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Public Integrity reported Thursday. He ran 4,906 more than Missouri gubernatorial candidate Eric Greitens, who came in second.

The center said Gianforte’s ads would run for 13 straight days if they were all aired back to back.

The Republican Gianforte is in a close race against Gov. Steve Bullock, the Democratic incumbent. As the race has grown tighter and Election Day looms, both campaigns and a handful of political action committees have increased their television ad buys.

Gianforte’s television spots account for 59 percent of ads that have aired in the Montana governor’s race, according to the center’s analysis.

Gianforte spokesman Aaron Flint said the campaign’s media strategy is key for promoting Gianforte’s name and message to Montanans. The candidate must also fight back against false attacks from outside special interests, particularly the Democratic Governors Association, which Bullock used to lead. It has has spent millions of dollars in false attack ads against Gianforte, Flint said.

“While Greg Gianforte refuses special interest PAC money, career politician Steve Bullock is taking money from leaders of the groups who sued to shut down coal jobs in Colstrip,” Flint said.

Bullock’s campaign responded to the center’s analysis by highlighting that Gianforte has spent more than $5.6 million of his own money on the race and by repeating attacks made against Gianforte throughout the campaign.

Greg Gianforte could spend another $6 million of his own fortune buying votes and more false TV ads, but it still wouldn’t erase his record of lobbying for a statewide sales tax, suing to block public river access and pushing to take money away from public education to give it to private schools,” Bullock campaign spokesman Jason Pitt said.

Gianforte and the state Fish, Wildlife and Parks department resolved a 2009 dispute over an easement on Gianforte’s Bozeman property out of court. Gianforte made comments 14 years ago in which he called a statewide sales tax an ideal but politically improbable solution to attract businesses to the state when combined with lowered personal income and capital gains taxes.

Bullock has aired more than 9,500 television ads, putting him in the No. 15 nationwide position. The governor’s television presence is boosted by a Democratic Governors Association-backed political action committee called Good Jobs Montana, which has aired 11,925 ads opposing Gianforte. That’s the seventh-highest total in the analysis.

In all, $8.1 million has been spent to air 58,420 ads in the Montana governor’s race by the two candidates, Good Jobs Montana, the Republican Governors Association’s Right Direction PAC, Montana Conservation Voters and Montanans for Truth in Public Schools.

The ad count by the Center for Public Integrity actually understates the total number of ads run, because it does not include spots on cable TV, radio or the internet.

The center analyzed data about political advertising on broadcast television from Kantar Media/CMAG, a media tracking firm that monitors 211 media markets around the country and provides a widely accepted estimate of the money spent to air each spot.

The analysis includes 749 candidates and organizations that bought ads in races across the country from governor’s races to state legislative races.

It does not include federal races for U.S. Senate, House or president.

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