Montana GOP lawmakers made fortunes at tech giant Oracle — and became its best friends in D.C.

Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte made millions at Oracle, and have fought for its interests ever since

Published September 7, 2020 6:00AM (EDT)

Steve Daines, Greg Gianforte, and the Oracle Corporation (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Steve Daines, Greg Gianforte, and the Oracle Corporation (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Montana Republicans Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte share a tight financial and legislative history with each other and with the tech giant Oracle that goes back years. That relationship has netted each of them several million dollars and made Gianforte one of the wealthiest members of Congress.

Both have also used their offices to support legislation and other initiatives for which Oracle spent significant time and money lobbying, and from which the company stood to gain financially — including through defense contracts.

Additionally, both are up for election this year: Daines is running for re-election to the Senate, in a tight race with current Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, while Gianforte is trying to move from the House — where he serves as the state's lone representative — to the governor's mansion.

Gianforte made his fortune from RightNow Technologies, a Bozeman-based tech company he co-founded with his wife in 1997, where Daines served as an executive for 12 years. In 2011, Gianforte sold the company to Oracle for $1.5 billion, at the time holding between 20% and 25% of the company's stock, which was valued at between $300 million and $400 million, according to statements he made to the Billings Gazette.

That sale sent 100 jobs to Texas, according to a report in the Missoulan, but Gianforte stayed, working in a consulting capacity until March 2013, per his LinkedIn page.

The sale went a long way toward making Gianforte the wealthiest member of Congress, a title he held until last year when he was displaced by appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., whose husband is CEO of the New York Stock Exchange

The Gianforte Family Trust holds more than $190 million in assets, as of its 2018 tax filing, and supports a number of ultra-conservative organizations and efforts, including helping to build a creationist museum in Glendive, Montana, that depicts humans coexisting with dinosaurs.

Daines reported that between 2011 and 2012, when he stepped away from the company to run for Senate, RightNow and Oracle paid him a combined $550,882 in salary. He also reported earning between $2 million and $10 million over those two years, according to disclosures.

Since 1998, Daines and Gianforte, through their company Genesis Partners, have shared a stake in a Bozeman office complex called Genesis Business Park, which rented space to RightNow and subsequently Oracle. The complex currently hosts an Oracle campus, which Gianforte told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle in 2015 had a 10-year lease, which is apparently set to expire next March.

Between 2015 dna 2018, Daines pulled in between $485,000 and $5.1 million per year in rent from the office park, and 2012 through 2014 earned between $100,001 and $1 million, according to his federal disclosure forms.

Gianforte reported earning between $50,000 and $100,000 from rent and capital gains through Genesis Partners, per his disclosures.

In fact, Daines officially filed his candidacy for Senate from the Oracle offices in Bozeman, which he had leased to the company. From the Missoula Independent:

Critics have since speculated that [Daines'] years at the company and the money netted by executives through the Oracle purchase were the springboard from which Daines launched his political career. In fact, according to a February 2014 article in the Billings Gazette, Daines officially filed his candidacy for the U.S. Senate from his iPhone while at the Bozeman offices of Oracle.

While in congress, Daines and Gianforte have pushed legislation that would benefit Oracle, including bills lobbied on by Oracle, federal reports show.

Daines introduced an amendment to a 2017 spending bill (SB 2943) that included spending to "ensure higher quality cybersecurity" for Department of Energy and Pentagon nuclear command and communication systems. Oracle had previously been awarded DOE contracts to do software work for the National Nuclear Security Administration, as well as DOD contracts for electronics and communications equipment.

Oracle reported that it lobbied on that bill for those specific issues, expending nearly $2 million on lobbying that quarter alone, government disclosures show.

The Montana legislative duo also supported billions of dollars in federal government procurement on which Oracle had lobbied.

Daines also voted to allocate billions of dollars for procurement as part of the fiscal 2016 and fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Acts (NDAAs), Gianforte effectively voted in favor of the 2017 and 2020 NDAAs, both of which Oracle lobbied on.

Specifically, Oracle lobbied on issues related to IT, cloud and cybersecurity procurement policies, spending nearly $2 million lobbying on both, according to disclosures.

Furthermore, Daines used committee markups in 2015 and 2016 to increase funding for cybersecurity measures by nearly $2 billion, while Oracle touted its cybersecurity work with the federal government — specifically the Pentagon.

Daines also worked to boost cybersecurity innovation in the private sector, introducing legislation to get cybersecurity interests a seat at the table of a Workforce Advisory Board.

Oracle, whose complete cloud services division took in about $27.4 billion per year, lobbied on "cloud computing issues" throughout Daines' time in Congress.

Daines similarly supported millions of dollars in funding for artificial intelligence (AI) programs, which Oracle stood to benefit from substantially, as the company offered an array of products incorporating AI and machine learning.

Daines has routinely advocated for private sector advantages on those issues, while Oracle promoted its government collaborations and spent millions lobbying for spending increases, including nearly $2 million for AI.

Daines and Gianforte both supported rolling back net neutrality, which Oracle publicly supported — and though many tech companies share the same interests, Daines and Gianforte used their offices to oppose policies supported by Oracle competitors, most specifically Google.

One such measure was the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, which held website operators liable for third-party content that promotes sex trafficking. According to the Verge, Oracle publicly supported that bill in an effort to harm their competitors, specifically Google:

Why Oracle would come out so publicly in favor of the bill is less obvious, since the law lacks even a tenuous connection to their business model. However the company's animosity towards Google is well-documented, from its $9 billion lawsuit over Android, to Oracle's funding of the Google Transparency Project, which put out a report earlier this year claiming that Google had bought academic influence through grants. In a bizarre way, Google has become the favorite target of those who support SESTA.

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported in 2015 that Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock had met with Oracle competitors Google and Facebook ahead of his 2016 re-election bid, apparently in an effort to lure more tech competitors to Montana's Northern Rocky tech apparatus. Bullock defeated Gianforte in that election, and is now running against Daines in one of the nation's most closely-watched Senate races. 

Daines once sent a letter to Google voicing concerns about their personal health information protection mechanisms, requesting the company provide information on the subject. Coincidentally, Oracle also criticized its chief rival's data collection, and played a key role in launching an Australian government probe into Google over its collection practices.

In 2017, Daines called on Oracle CEO Safra Catz to join a tech jobs summit that he hosted.

Gianforte co-sponsored and voted in favor of an Oracle-backed immigration bill, the Fairness For High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019, on which Oracle lobbied, according to federal disclosures.

Gianforte also supported intelligence authorization legislation that Oracle lobbied on, voting in favor of an intelligence authorization act in 2018, 2019 and 2020, per Senate records.

In addition to the millions of dollars that Daines and Gianforte made from their business relationships with Oracle, including ongoing rent, the company has contributed financially to the two lawmakers' election campaigns. 

Daines for his part has taken over $56,000 in campaign contributions from Oracle over his career, making the company one of his top 10 contributors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Oracle employees have contributed $10,700 to Gianforte over the course of his two congressional bids.

Daines currently appears to hold a lead over Bullock in this year's Senate race, and President Trump is expected to easily carry Montana. But the state has a history of being politically unpredictable, and Democratic Sen. Jon Tester successfully held his seat in 2018. 

Gianforte faces a tougher challenge against Democratic Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney, in a race currently rated as a "toss-up" in the RealClearPolitics average of polls.

Gianforte first won his House seat in a tight 2017 special election, after former Rep. Ryan Zinke joined Trump's cabinet for his spectacularly scandal-studded stint as secretary of the Interior. On the eve of Gianforte's election he made worldwide headlines for body-slamming Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, and was convicted of assault in Montana state court the next month (after winning the election). The judge handed down a fine and sentenced the representative-elect to community service and anger management therapy.

As a result of the terms of the settlement, Gianforte gave the Committee to Protect Journalists $50,000, about 1/4,000 of his total estimated net worth.

By Roger Sollenberger

Roger Sollenberger was a staff writer at Salon (2020-21). Follow him on Twitter @SollenbergerRC.

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Elections Google Greg Gianforte Montana Oracle Reporting Republicans Steve Bullock Steve Daines