The 'Former Law Enforcement' Officer in Jon Tester's Latest Ad Is a Top Montana Dem With Ties to the Senator

February 7, 2024

Sen. Jon Tester’s (D., Mont.) latest campaign ad touts the support of a "former law enforcement" officer. What he omits is that the retired cop is a former state Democratic official who has not worked in law enforcement for more than a decade.

Mike Tooley, who says in that ad that "Montana law enforcement knows we can count on Jon to help us protect and serve," led Montana’s Department of Transportation under former Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D.) from 2013 until 2021, when Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte took office. Tooley scored a lucrative job at Aurigo Software Technologies two months later, where he provides consulting services and pitches software to public sector officials.

Shortly after Tooley arrived at Aurigo, the firm was awarded a $10 million federal contract to help oversee the bidding process for new highway projects funded by the bipartisan infrastructure act. Tester was the lead Democratic negotiator for that bill and the only member from Montana’s congressional delegation to vote for its passage.

Tester’s attempt to pass Tooley off as simply a retired Montana cop is the senator’s latest effort to earn Republican votes ahead of a tough reelection fight. Tester has attempted to rebrand himself as a centrist in recent months, largely avoiding references to President Joe Biden or even using the word "Democrat" in campaign materials. Former president Donald Trump twice carried Montana by double digits.

A highway patrolman for nearly 30 years, Tooley pivoted to Democratic politics in 2013 with his new position in Bullock’s administration. There, he helped oversee Bullock’s security detail, which was implicated in a controversial taxpayer-funded Iowa trip in 2019, as the governor mulled a presidential run. Tooley updated his Facebook cover photo in 2019 to a pro-Bullock banner and has donated at least $1,300 to Tester’s campaign.

As Montana’s director of transportation, Tooley’s primary responsibility was, in his words, "overseeing the selection, design, construction, and maintenance of Montana state highways and state owned rail and airport transportation infrastructure." Less than three months after Bullock appointed Tooley, Tester nominated him to the National Freight Advisory Committee for his "unique perspective on rural transportation."

Three years later, the Montana Senate delegation nominated Tooley to the National Aviation Commission. This time, Tooley was picked for his "unique perspective on the importance of air travel."

Tooley and Tester remain close. In March 2023, Tooley led a business delegation to meet with Tester on "the impact of technology on the $1.2 Trillion Infrastructure (IIJA) bill," according to one attendee’s LinkedIn post.

At least a portion of Tooley’s current practice appears to be focused on advising local governments on how to receive federal infrastructure grants. In January, Tooley wrote a brief essay on Aurigo’s website entitled, "Build better: Through the lens of transparency & accountability."

There, Tooley said his firm can help clients "get the best value of monies available as part of the federal infrastructure bill."

Neither Tooley nor Tester responded to requests for comment.