Montana Senator Jon Tester's Restaurant Bills Don't Match His Everyman Image

Tester says he hates eating out because Montanans 'like our own meat'

Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.) / Getty Images
March 10, 2023

Montana senator Jon Tester bills himself as "a tireless defender of rural America" who prefers a home-cooked meal to dining out in Washington, D.C.'s vibrant restaurant scene. But the Democrat's campaign receipts tell a different story: Tester has spent more than a million dollars at swanky restaurants, including one Beltway haunt that touts its appeal to "senators, congressmen, celebrities, and powerbrokers."

Tester's campaign and leadership PAC have dropped at least $1.2 million at restaurants and on catered events since 2006, including more than $270,000 at restaurants since 2019, according to campaign finance records. That includes $31,000 at Morton's Steakhouse, a Washington mainstay where eight-ounce steaks run $53 and margaritas cost $35 a pop. Then there's Del Frisco's, a steakhouse that enforces a "strict upscale dress code" on its patrons, and RPM Italian, owned by celebrity reporter Giuliana Rancic and visited in recent years by rapper Drake and comedian Pete Davidson. Tester's campaign spent $8,100 and $6,000 at the restaurants, respectively.

Another Tester campaign favorite is Bistro Cacao, where the Democrat has shelled out $15,745 for a taste of "French indulgence with contemporary flair." Tester spent an additional $9,900 at Bistro Bis, a French restaurant on Capitol Hill that boasts "ambiance and luxury" for its clientele of "senators, congressmen, celebrities, and powerbrokers."

The spending flies in the face of the senator's public remarks about fine dining. Tester has insisted he would rather eat at home, preferably with meat transported from his Montana farm, than go out for dinner. "At the end of the long day, I am happier not going out [to eat]," he told the New York Times in 2012. "Taking meat with us is just something that we do. We like our own meat."

Tester did not respond to a request for comment.

The senator's flair for luxury dining could hurt his image as a humble Montana farmer, which he is likely to lean on in his 2024 campaign. Tester, whose campaign site is plastered with images of him working at his farm outside Big Sandy, Mont., is considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats on the 2024 Senate slate. A Tester loss would dramatically hinder Democrats' efforts to maintain a majority in the upper chamber.

Tester, who recently railed against "multimillionaires" though he himself is worth up to $6.7 million, has been in the U.S. Senate since 2007. It is unclear which Republicans will run against the 66-year-old Tester, though Reps. Ryan Zinke and Matt Rosendale are rumored to be eyeing a run for the seat.

Tester did not spend any money at Ted's Montana Grill, a Montana-themed steakhouse with three locations in the D.C. metro area.