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.”  

This 2016 file photo from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality shows pollution in Belt Creek near Belt in central Montana. Work began in early October on a $26 million project to treat acid mine drainage from an old coal mine that is polluting the creek, sometimes causing it to turn a rusty color.


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

Oct. 25, 2021


Forecasters see a cold, snowy winter in Montana

Long-awaited cleanup of Belt Creek begins

After 53 years, son finds closure when father's remains found

Congressional districting talks snag on question of 'What's fair?'

Kalispell pastor running for Congress as Republican

Blackfeet Nation honors Chief Earl Old Person

UM professor resigns in face of school's probe of his blog posts

Green groups sue over permit for planned natural gas plant at Laurel

Head of MT's wildlife agency nominated to lead US wildlife service

Supreme Court overturns man's marijuana conviction

Critics say AG overstepping authority, he says 'nonsense'

Redistricting commission shrinks its pool of congressional maps to 2

Gov calls for halt to Afghan relocations to MT following alleged rape

Butte hospital opens COVID treatment clinic

MT media groups appeal judge's ruling over closed GOP meeting

UM Law School gets new interim leadership

Montana leads nation in COVID cases on per 100K basis

Partisan factions square off over proposed new congressional districts

Man charged with running over, killing girlfriend in Missoula parking lot

MSU sees record-breaking enrollment for freshman class

UM says sex discrimination claims are 'false and inflammatory'

Zinke, Neumann lead fundraising for state's new congressional race

Rosendale leads in donations for eastern congressional race

Governor defends pandemic policies as COVID rates remain high

Helena hospital officials say doctors 'threatened' by AG's office

State council updates teacher ethics code, but critics raise questions

More lawsuits filed over Amtrak train crash

UM seeks partial dismissal for Title IX lawsuit

GOP quest for election integrity investigation hits roadblock

Great Falls police investigate assaults on homeless people

Stevi man faces negligent homicide charge for crash that killed wife

Missoula man pleads no contest to charge of shooting wife

Girl, ,reunites with teddy bear a year after losing it in Glacier Park

Blackfeet Tribe's Chief Earl Old Person dies at 92

Judge temporarily blocks law that bans closing of Colstrip power plants

Yellowstone Park breaks annual visit record with a few months to go

Bigfork musician lands spot on NBC's 'The Voice'



Nationwide pilot shortage leads to fewer flights at Billings airport

Colstrip operator agrees on $163M cleanup plan with state

MT coal production rose 2% this year due to Japanese demand

Montana State Fund announces record-tying $40M dividend

Signal Peak coal mine agrees to pay $1M fine for violations

Feds to spend another $2.4M to retrain workers at Colstrip

Judge voids water permit for Flathead Valley bottling plant

MT utilities worried about big push for renewable energy


Bobcats shake off slow start to beat Idaho State 27-9

Grizzlies thump rival Idaho 34-7

Big Sky men's hoops preseason polls put Cats at No. 3, Griz at No. 4

Lady Cats voted No. 2 in preseason hoops polls, Lady Griz at 5, 7

Cat-Griz hoops game moved to Feb. 27 to air on ESPNU

O-lineman Lewis Kidd wants to leave lasting impression with Cats

Eureka's Garrett Graves embraces utility role for Griz

Griz woes mount as they play 3 of next 4 games on the road

Offensive struggles lead to Griz upset loss to Sacramento State


Attorney General Knudsen is sticking his nose where it doesn't belong

Republicans engaging in absurd political theater

Former FWP officials criticize adoption of wolf hunting, trapping rules

The feds misled us on wolves, and that triggered legislative action

Toxic polarization is bad for society

Attorney General Knudson should stop meddling in local matters

This Fourth of July demands extreme caution from Montanans

Crickets from the media over lack of transparency from judicial branch


'Dancing' sharp-tailed grouse return to western MT after long absence

Helena potter partners with actor Seth Rogen to create cannabis decor

New Whitehall-based center to focus on Montana's western legacy

Recent bequest highlights painter Ace Powell's enduring legacy

Kalispell man grows 400 apple varieties in his small orchard

A story of family, resistance and hope on a Montana reservation

Benedict Cumberbatch starring in movie set in 1920s Montana

Livingston's Death Cafe: A place to eat and chew over mortality


MSU's Kenny Chesney concert rescheduled for July of 2022

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