Greg Gianforte Meets Bozeman Daily Chronicle Editorial Board

Greg Gianforte, republican candidate for governor of Montana, speaks with the Bozeman Daily Chronicle's editorial board on Wednesday, March 9.

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Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte and his wife Susan are tapping the family’s private foundation to make one of the largest donations ever to Montana State University.

According to a university gift agreement signed Wednesday, the Gianforte Family Trust will donate $8 million to MSU over the next five years. Of that, $5 million will be used to create an endowment for the university’s Computer Science Department.

Gianforte’s campaign spokesman, Aaron Flint, said the gift is not related to Gianforte’s campaign and directed questions to the university.

The donation agreement stipulates that the department will be renamed the Gianforte School of Computing, a change supported by the school’s Commemorative Tributes Committee and MSU President Waded Cruzado.

The purpose of the gift, the agreement reads, is also to “provide support for the Dean of Engineering, the director of the school and the school.”

MSU spokesman Tracy Ellig said the Gianfortes had been discussing a major gift to MSU for four years.

Their interest in the naming rights followed the university’s recent decision to upgrade the computer science department into a school.

Ellig also said the university does not consider politics when accepting money.

“Our doors are open to students of all political persuasions. Our doors are open to donors of all political persuasions,” he said. “It has to be that way.”

In addition, because a portion of the gift is designated for the university’s South Campus Project, a large “in the round” classroom in the College of Engineering’s new Norm Asbjornson Innovation Center will be renamed the Gianforte Auditorium.

Ellig said university guidelines typically require that the naming of a department be based on a donation of at least $5 million or the equivalent of 20 percent of the department’s annual operating costs.

The agreement was signed by the Gianfortes and MSU Foundation President Christopher Murray on May 11. It included a confidentiality agreement in which the MSU Foundation would coordinate a “mutually acceptable plan for public announcement and recognition for this gift.” Ellig said that was standard policy.

Montana University System policy requires that the Board of Regents must approve the new name. The regents will decide at its meetings next week.

This is not the first donation Gianforte has made to MSU. Last March, the Gianforte Family Trust donated $1 million to MSU’s computer science program. Gianforte and his wife Susan founded RightNow Technologies in 1997. The company was purchased by Oracle in 2012 for $1.5 billion.

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Troy Carter can be reached at 582-2630 or tcarter@dailychronicle.com. He’s on Twitter at @cartertroy.

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Troy Carter covers politics and county government for the Chronicle.

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