Tim Sheehy is running in one of the country’s most competitive U.S. Senate races while also running an aerial firefighting company that is heavily dependent on federal contracts.
Bridger Aerospace, which Sheehy founded in 2014, is featured prominently in his ads, with the company’s planes appearing in several shots. And Bridger’s board of directors has blessed the Republican’s campaign, wishing him “the best of luck” in a June statement that confirmed Sheehy would remain as CEO during his bid to oust Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana.
But the company, which issues publicly traded stock, also has explicit rules about political contributions and activities. Employees are not permitted to engage in politics while on company time, according to the company’s Code of Business Conduct and Ethics. There are also rules requiring legal reviews and approval before company funds can be spent on behalf of candidates or campaigns.
“Work time may be considered the equivalent of a contribution by the Company,” the code states. “Therefore, Company Personnel will not be paid by the Company for any time spent running for public office, serving as an elected official or campaigning for a political candidate.”
It’s not uncommon for political candidates — especially those seeking to move from one elected office to another — to have full-time or otherwise time-consuming day jobs. Sheehy’s candidacy presents the potential for unique conflicts with the policies of the company he runs full time. But officials with Bridger and the Sheehy campaign did not directly address questions about how, precisely, the CEO/Senate hopeful is complying with corporate accountability measures.
“Tim’s campaign is separate and distinct from his role as CEO of Bridger Aerospace, and he and the Company abide by the strictest interpretation of applicable ethical norms and federal campaign finance laws,” read an unsigned statement that a company spokesperson sent to NBC News in response to questions. “Further, Bridger has adopted additional internal protocols to ensure that the Company does not facilitate any activity that would violate Company policy and/or applicable federal campaign finance laws.”
Montana is a major Senate battleground in 2024 that could help tip control of the chamber to Republicans. Tester, who is seeking a fourth term, is among a trio of Democratic incumbents — Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Joe Manchin of West Virginia are the others — up for re-election next year in states that former President Donald Trump won handily.
Sheehy might first face a tough primary. Rep. Matt Rosendale, the Republican who lost to Tester in 2018, has not ruled out a run. Sheehy, though, has considerable establishment support, including from Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte and Sen. Steve Daines, a fellow Montanan who also chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Senate GOP’s campaign arm.
A former Navy SEAL, Sheehy is also a cattle rancher and an active firefighting pilot. Bridger, which specializes in fighting wildfires, began trading on the Nasdaq stock exchange this year, following a merger with a special purpose acquisition company.
It’s unclear how Sheehy balances his various jobs and duties with the demands of a Senate candidate in a key state. Social media posts show he has maintained a steady public campaign schedule. It’s also not clear what permission he’s received from the company to use its images and property in his ads. Some of the campaign’s ad footage is similar, if not identical, to footage that appears in videos that seem to have been produced for corporate marketing purposes.
“It takes a lot of helpers in all that we do,” Sheehy wrote this week on his personal Facebook page. “Whether it’s the over 180 employees at Bridger Aerospace or families getting together to care for cattle, I need your help to win this Senate Race.”
Bridger’s spokesperson did not respond to a list of follow-up questions seeking more details about permissions granted to Sheehy or the “internal protocols” the company says are in place to keep him from running afoul of ethics policies. After Sheehy launched his campaign in June, the company released a statement that he would “continue to serve as Chief Executive Officer with the continued support of Bridger’s experienced management team and Board of Directors.”
“Tim has assembled an experienced management team [composed] of former military, corporate and aviation experts, all of whom are accustomed to collaborating as a team to pursue and execute Bridger’s mission-specific objectives,” board Chairman Jeff Kelter said in the statement. “Bridger is confident that this group of professionals, constituting the finest management team in the business, will continue to successfully achieve our aerial firefighting objectives.”
Bridger is almost exclusively reliant on federal contracts — “accounting for approximately 96% of our total revenue in the year ended December 31, 2022,” according to a March filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Bloomberg Government reported in June on the potential conflicts of interest Sheehy would face as a senator deeply enmeshed with a major federal contractor.
“Tim Sheehy has been plagued by scandals, conflicts of interest and campaign stumbles since he entered the race,” said Amanda Sherman Baity, a spokesperson for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “Every day, more of his liabilities come to light.”
Katie Martin, a spokesperson for Sheehy’s campaign, told NBC News that he will step down from his roles with Bridger if elected.
“When Tim Sheehy is elected to the U.S. Senate,” Martin said, “he will fully comply with Senate ethics rules and standards of conduct, just like every other member of the Senate, and that would include stepping down as CEO and board member.”