Montana

Hilltop Struggles to Smoothly Launch Senate, House Campaigns in Montana

Campaigns

Hilltop Public Solutions has been hired to run Montana Lt. Gov. John Walsh’s campaign for U.S. Senate. This comes just weeks after Montana Democratic U.S. House candidate John Lewis announced that his campaign ship would have Hilltop at the helm.

Walsh announced his candidacy last Thursday via a YouTube video that is now the main feature on his campaign website. The news broke that Hilltop was running the campaign when Hilltop strangely stated that Walsh was not available to talk to reporters on the day he launched his campaign.

“Walsh, through his campaign consultant, refused to make himself available to reporters for an interview,” wrote Lee Newspapers state reporter Mike Dennison in the original version of a story announcing Walsh’s bid. “The consultant, Hilltop Public Solutions, would not explain why Walsh wouldn’t talk directly to the media.”

The strange decision to not have the candidate talk to the media was quickly noted by many in the Montana media and by National Republican Senatorial Committee press secretary Brook Hougesen.

After the criticism came in, Hilltop apparently changed its mind, as Dennison was then able to interview Walsh later on Thursday. Dennison then ran an updated version of his story on Walsh’s decision to run.

The Walsh announcement comes just weeks after Hilltop helped John Lewis, a  long-time adviser to U.S. Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), announce in August that he planned to run for Montana’s lone U.S. House seat.

In July it was reported that Hilltop Partner Barrett Kaiser — whom Lewis called “a close friend” — had traveled with Lewis to meet with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. When Lewis announced he was running, it was done through his newly hired campaign spokesman Aaron Murphy, who is a principal at Hilltop and the former communications director for Democratic Sen. Jon Tester.

The rollout of the Lewis Campaign has also been questioned as Lewis has done little to no campaigning and has yet to even launch a website. The only mentions of the Lewis Campaign since the announcement have come from the Hilltop-tied left-wing blog, Montana Street Fighter.

Hilltop Public Solutions has generated controversy recently as it has worked for multiple left-wing causes and candidates in Montana. Media Trackers has reported extensively on the activities of Hilltop, including its election work for pro-union school board members, an astroturf political blog, and coordination of the dark money group Montana Hunters and Anglers, which spent $1.2 million towards the re-election of Sen. Jon Tester.

Most notably, Hilltop is currently under investigation by the Montana Office of Political Practices for allegations of illegally coordinating independent expenditures with Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock’s campaign.