​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​              A daily digest of Montana news

July 29, 2021


Two firefighters keep an eye on the Burnt Peak Fire in northwestern Montana. (Inciweb)



Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss has spent tens of millions to transform the Montana landscape, but likely few Montanans have heard of him. Now the New York Times has a story out telling how Wyss has “quietly become one of the most important donors to left-leaning advocacy groups and an increasingly influential force among Democrats.”

Wyss, who lives in Wyoming, donated millions through his foundations towards creating the American Prairie Reserve in northeastern Montana and to a project to convert private timberlands in the Swan Valley to public lands.

The Montana media has said little about Wyss’s donations to Montana conservation causes, but the Great Falls Tribune did note in 2015 that the Wyss Foundation had given $2.5 million to the APR wildlife preserve project. The Tribune also noted that the conservative Daily Caller web site had reported that Wyss settled a sex-abuse claim brought by a former employee, while at the same time Wyss had given $5 million to Hillary Clinton's "No Ceilings" women's empowerment project.

A reserve spokeswoman told the Trib at the time there was no plan to return the Wyss money. "It's a tough situation all around," the spokeswoman said. "But we're trying to honor the foundation's wishes that this project become a reality independent of whatever may be happening in Mr. Wyss' personal life."

The Wyss Foundation also gave $35 million to the Montana Legacy Project, which eventually acquired over 300,000 acres of land in western Montana, mostly in the Swan Valley, and converted it to public lands.

While Wyss has focused much of his early attention on environmental issues such as those in Montana, in more recent years he has funneled a lot of his funds into dark-money groups that help Democrats and liberal causes, the New York Times said in its new report.

Wyss donated $208 million from 2016 through early last year to three other nonprofit funds that gave money various groups that backed progressive causes and helped Democrats in their efforts to win the White House and control of Congress last year, the Times said.

​​​​​​BOTH political parties had their share of winners and losers this election, but there was one clear set of losers: the pollsters.

Pollsters greatly underestimated the level of support for President Trump in many states – something that also happened in 2016, but didn’t get fixed.

Polling on Senate races around the country was even more off base. In the Maine U.S. Senate race, for example, incumbent Sen. Susan Collins trailed Democratic challenger Sara Gideon in every major poll. One had Collins 12 points behind. But she ended up winning by a 9-point margin.

The same scenario played out in Montana.

The Mountain States Poll sponsored by MSU-Billings gave Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock a 48-47 point lead over Sen. Steve Daines. The GOP senator won by 10 points.

Same for the MSU-Bozeman poll, which gave Bullock a 2-point edge a couple weeks before the election. Likewise, that same poll gave GOP state Auditor Matt Rosendale a 48-46 percent edge over Democrat Kathleen Williams in their congressional contest, but Rosendale won by a 56-44 margin.

In the Mountain States Poll, Rosendale led Williams 47-46.

One of the few races that a Montana poll came close to getting right was the governor’s race. The MSU poll had GOP Congressman Greg Gianforte leading Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney leading 47 to 42. Gianforte actually won by more than 12 points, but that was still more than the poll's 3,9 percent margin of error.

The MSU-Billings poll had Gianforte and Cooney in a dead heat at 45 each.

From July 1 until Election Day, 17 polls took the pulse of Montana voters, and virtually all of them declared the Senate race a neck-and-neck affair. Some said Bullock was leading by as much as 4 points. Only one pollster, Emerson College, came close to getting a true measure of the sentiment of voters, having Daines up by 6 points in one and 9 by another.

In an interview aired Sunday with GOP and Democratic strategists Ashlee Strong and Eric Stern, MTN’s Jay Kohn asked about the polls. Both Strong and Stern said private polls done for the parties and candidates have been a lot more accurate than public polls, particularly those done by Montana's universities. What's the point, they agreed, in having taxpayers fund polls that have been so far off the mark in several election cycles?

Update: MTN's Mike Dennison has done a story in which he asks how the pollsters "missed the mark so badly." Possible factors, according to the analysts and pollsters he talked to: Many GOP voters are reluctant to talk to pollsters as they see them as part of the liberal media, or the polls used faulty methodologies that didn't adjust for the number of GOP voters there are in Montana. Another possibility: the unexpectedly large turnout worked to the advantage of the GOP -- and wasn't factored into poll possibilities. 

UM political scientist Rob Saldin noted that the internal polling done by campaigns was closer to the mark. Still, Saldin said, they were "every bit as surprised – not necessarily in terms of who won, but by the huge margins that we saw the Republican candidates win by.”  

A third of Montana counties fall under new CDC mask mandate

Poverty Flats Fire threatens 1,240 homes in Bighorn County

Tester says senators reach deal on $1T infrastructure bill

Melissa Joan Hart films part of her new Lifetime movie in East Helena

Helena woman found guilty of elder abuse, identity theft

Health officials warn of toxic algae in Hebgen Lake

Governor declines to issue new mask mandate as COVID cases rise

All but 1 of 5 injured firefighters released from hospital

Water Court endorses MT water rights for North Dakota tribe

Temperatures to moderate a bit, with possibility of some showers

Park County inmate re-captured after making break from jail

Air quality alert issued for parts of Montana due to wildfire smoke

Montana wildfires continue to grow

Very hot and smoky again Tuesday, followed by slight cooling trend

Thick haze in sky may keep temperatures from soaring

Montana hemp growers award $65M for being defrauded

2 Helena residents arrested for stealing plane found near Hamilton

Firefighters hurt in Garfield County fire in stable condition

Montana man calls Tucker Carlson 'worst human' at MT tackle shop

Red Ants Pants Festival returns with 3 days of good music, vibes

Fires trigger evacuation orders in Sanders, Cascade counties

The work of splitting Montana into 2 congressional districts starts again

Man gets 7 years in prison for firing gun at Butte bartender

State declined to call for water rights on Smith, Shields rivers

Gianforte mobilizes National Guard to fight wildfires

5 firefighters hurt while fighting blaze near Jordan

Montana's fire preparedness at highest level

OPI mulls changes to teacher licensing requirements

Delta Variant now dominant COVID strain in Montana

Browning man gets 27 years for murder, kidnapping



MT farmers and ranchers plagued by hordes of grasshoppers

Plan for NorthWestern's Laurel natural-gas plant advances

Flathead cherry growers optimistic as this years harvest kicks off

Butte airport gets daily flights to Salt Lake City and Denver

Attorney general seeks role in NorthWestern's request to add power

Billings ranks No. 1 in nation for appeal to remote workers

Bakken oil producers feeling pinch of labor shortages

Montana coal production drops 23 percent as demand eases


Former Lady Griz Shelby Schweyen transfers to MSU

Cats, Griz will both play on games telecast on ESPNU this fall

5 Grizzlies, 2 Cats named to Big Sky preseason all-conference team

UM ranked No. 2, MSU No. 4 in Big Sky preseason football poll

Belgrade's Ali Weisz takes 14th in air rifle at Summer Olympics

Why 'Hoot Owl' restrictions will help Montana rivers

Flathead boy went over high jump bar backwards long before Fosbury

Former Carroll coach Van Diest hired to help at MSU-Northern 


This Fourth of July demands extreme caution from Montanans

Crickets from the media over lack of transparency from judicial branch

Stone-Manning deserves Daines' support as director of BLM

AG Knudsen's firing of law firm was in best interest of state

We're in a strange place when it comes to masks

How might Montana be reapportioned into 2 representative districts?

Montanans should embrace feds' efforts to put bison on wildlife range

Bullock: GOP has delivered a setback plan, not a comeback plan


'Stagecoach Mary,' 1st Black woman to win postal contract, honored

Bigfork author pens crime thriller set in Lakeside

Crow Tribe re-enacts the Battle of the Little Bighorn

Did keno start in Butte? The answer is complicated

Historical photo collection now on display at Flathead museum

New John Maclean book creates new memories of fishing, family

The wild history of Flathead Lake's Wild Horse Island

The War of the Copper Kings between Clark & Daly shaped Montana


Summer music festivals, concerts on tap in Montana

Foreigner to perform in Billings in June, Butte in September

Legendary actor Ed Asner bringing political comedy to Whitefish

Helena's Symphony Under the Stars returns July 17

Under the Big Sky Festival slated for Whitefish July 17-18

Red Ants Pants Festival to headline Taj Mahal, Watchhouse

Country star Travis Tritt to perform in Billings July 31​​

MSU's Kenny Chesney concert rescheduled for July of 2022

Billings' Magic City Blues Festival features 12 acts in early August

Sheryl Crow coming to Missoula on Aug. 13

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