Firefighters battle a blaze at the iconic M&M bar and cafe in Uptown Butte early Friday morning. (Lawrence Farrar / Montana Standard)

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

May 11, 2021



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.”  

Fire guts Butte's historic M&M bar and cafe

Part of governor's tax-relief proposals becomes law

Pandemic drives big changes to Montana's health-care policies

Fees increase as tribes take over management of Bison Range

Suit challenges new law that calls for electing SC judges by district

State drops numeric quantities for water qualities

Monte Dolack unveils latest painting celebrating restoration project

Demand outweighs availability as Glacier Park starts ticketed entry

State ceremony recognizes missing, murdered Indigenous people

Grizzly sighted for first time in central MT's Big Snowy Mountains

New law makes it easier to get third party candidate on the ballot

Blackfeet tribe shares surplus vaccines with neighbors to the north

'Piano Pat,' Great Falls icon and entertainer, passes away at 85

State opts out of federal jobless benefits; creates incentive payments

MT officials soon start drawing line for new congressional districts

Attorney general seeks to disqualify justices from subpoena challenge

Forest Service approves 2 Crazy Mountain land trades

MT officials make adjustments as COVID vaccine demand falls

State blasts 'woke' Washington with new laws to extend coal power

Democrats rip Republican investigation into judicial branch

Former tenant charged with burning down Choteau apartment building

Court: Political practices office has no subpoena power for records

Bison management plans need their own roundup

About 96% of Montanans follow through and get 2nd vaccine shot

MSU honors graduating class with in-person ceremony

UM holds commencement for 2 graduating classes: 2020 and 2021

Legislature marked by sharp dispute, but also some bipartisanship

How Montana's Indian Country is impacted by legislative action

Legislators pack some surprises into their last-minute bills

New law boosts penalties for reckless driving around responders

BNSF sues Libby clinic, saying it is over-diagnosing asbestos diseases

Governor OKs limits to making sex change on birth certificates

New law calls for wolf numbers to be reduced to 'sustainable' levels

Former state prison guard gets $250,000 in settlement

Supreme Court chief justice says judiciary hasn't misused resources

Gianforte resists fed plans to bring bison back to MT plains

Flathead legislator Skees plans to run for PSC

Legislators pass state's budget bill as they complete their work

The legislative session's winners and losers and also-rans

Lawmakers scales back bill that limits local health boards

Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke files for new US House seat

Feds consider bringing bison back to eastern Montana plains



Ranch where part of 'A River Runs Through It' was filmed for sale

Colstrip plant owners say new law interferes with plant contract

More details emerge about proposed gas-powered Laurel plant

Grand jury indicts contractor for wire fraud, money laundering

Suppliers, builders hammered by exorbitant lumber prices

Environmentalists object to timber project near Yellowstone Park

Oil shutdown order raises tensions between US and Canada

PSC may still pay price for not billing customers for Colstrip costs

Yellowstone Club, staffing firm to pay $1M settlement to workers


Carroll lineman Alex Hoffman gets NFL shot with New Orleans

Grizzlies add wing player from DePaul

6 players depart Lady Griz, including 2 Schweyen sisters

MSU men's hoops team adds 2 guards

Son of former Lady Cats star drafted in 1st round by New Orleans

UM adds needed size, versatility with 3 newcomers

Bobcats reveal depth chart, with McKay penciled in at QB

Billings sports card collector on incredible hot streak


The late Stan Stephens gave his all to the state of Montana

Let Regents know how you feel about concealed carry policy

Legislators right to torpedo bill that targeted American Prairie Reserve

Pot initiative passed by voters is 'nuts,' and legislators must fix it

Suit challenging end of Judicial Nominating Commission appropriate

Regents should challenge new conceal-carry gun law in court


Flathead Tunnel, 2nd longest in US, is overlooked engineering marvel

Early-day Butte writer Mary MacLane acted, created controversy

Hollywood film 'Supercell' storming into southern MT in May

How Helena became Montana's capital -- barely

After decades away, bell returns to Gallatin Gateway School

Small dinosaur bones from MT could represent last of small species

After successful music career in LA, Whitefish man rediscovers roots

Music starts making a comeback under the Big Sky


Summer music festivals, concerts on tap in Montana

Foreigner to perform in Billings in June, Butte in September

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

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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