Rental dispute raises more questions about Montana Dem's finances

Rental dispute raises more questions about Montana Dem's finances
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A complicated rental dispute raises new questions about Montana Democratic House candidate Rob Quist's personal finances.

Quist is running in a closely watched special election next week to replace Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in the state's sole House seat. Quist's campaign has been dogged by his past financial problems.

The latest dispute centers on a barn owned by Quist's family that he has framed as a turnaround project, repeatedly denying that it is a rental property.

But a Montana woman told the Missoulian on Friday that she's been paying rental payments to Quist's wife to stay in an apartment in the barn, even though Quist's tax returns given to the Associated Press do not show any rental payments.

Quist has distanced himself from the property. Property records pulled by the Missoulian show that Quist's daughter, Halladay Quist, owns the title for the barn while his wife, Bonni, holds power of attorney over the property.

That could be why Quist's wife's name is listed on the rental payments, and, as long as she then sent the money to Halladay, there'd be nothing wrong with the arrangement.

But the campaign did not provide the paper with any proof that she did transfer that money to her daughter, the titleholder, telling the paper that Quist's daughter should not be dragged into the campaign.

"Bonni and I paid our fair share of taxes this year and every year. One of the reasons I got in this race was to go to Washington and fight for tax cuts for people in Montana who work for a living, not transplanted New Jersey millionaires,” Quist said in a statement to the paper, referencing the state Republican candidate Greg Gianforte left to move to Montana nearly 20 years ago.

Tina Olechowski, Quist's communication's director, brushed aside the story in a statement to The Hill.

"This is a baseless attack on the reputation of a hard-working Montana family that pays their fair share of taxes like everyone else. The next six days Rob will focus on Greg Gianforte’s support of the disastrous DC health care bill that would raise costs for consumers, eliminate health coverage for 70,000 Montanans, and end protections for pre-existing conditions," she said.

Republicans have seized on the report in the final days before the Thursday election. The Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC tied to the House GOP leadership, fired off the story to reporters, noting that rental income must be disclosed and taxed under federal law.

Montana's special election for the historically red district has drawn millions of dollars in outside spending and larger-than-normal donation hauls as Democrats look to turn the round of early 2017 special elections into a referendum on President Trump. But much of Quist's success has come without help from Washington Democrats, as the national party has kept its distance even despite an onslaught of ground-cover from Republican groups.

Quist announced Thursday that he has raised more than $5 million for his election, an eye-popping sum for a Democrat in that area, especially one that isn't relying heavily on the party for support.

While Gianforte holds leads in all public polling, his lead has thinned in recent polls.