A Republican candidate seeking to fill Montana’s empty congressional seat, has financial ties to Russian companies sanctioned by the U.S. government, The Guardian first reported.
Greg Gianforte — the leading Republican nominee for Montana’s House seat for the 2017 special election left vacant after Ryan Zinke (R) resigned to become the Secretary of Interior — reportedly owns about $250,000 worth of shares in two index funds that have holdings in companies like Gazprom and Rosneft which are sanctioned by the U.S. government. Gazprom, a Russian state-controlled gas company based in Crimea, was sanctioned after it threatened to cut off gas when the Ukraine crisis erupted in 2014.
Shane Scanlon, a Gianforte spokesperson said the candidate would place his assets in a blind trust if he wins to avoid conflict of interests. In contrast with his fellow Republican Donald Trump, Gianforte also released ten years’ worth of tax returns, Scalon said, because “Greg strongly believes his personal assets should never influence his decision-making in office.”
Richard Nephew, a former State department official told the Guardian that “there is definitely a question here but my initial reaction is that this is not something to freak out about”.
“Index funds are usually just like mutual funds, excluded from consideration from a sanctions perspective because the ownership stake per person is incredibly small,” Nephew added.
The term “index fund” typically refers to a stock fund that tracks the components of a particular market index, such as the S&P 500. According to the Guardian, Gianforte invested in “two index funds that are invested in the Russian economy to match its overall performance.” So, while Gianforte’s investment does not necessarily suggest that he wanted to invest in the sanctioned companies, it does appear that he intentionally put his money in the Russian market.
Tina Olechowski, a spokeswoman for Gianforte’s Democratic opponent Rob Quist, criticized Gianforte over the Russian ties.
“Montana voters deserve to know why Greg Gianforte held on to his shady Russian investments after Putin invaded Ukraine, and again when Russia was accused of interfering in the presidential election,” Olechowski said.
“Putin’s Russia invaded Ukraine and interfered in last fall’s presidential election,” Olechowski added. “That kind of aggression is a clear threat to our democracy and global security, and in Congress Rob would evaluate all of our options including whether it makes sense to step up military aid to Ukraine.”
Gianforte’s investments in Russia comes at a time of heightened alert over the Kremlin, with multiple ongoing probes into whether that country interfered in the U.S. election, including by the FBI, and House and Senate intelligence committees.