HELENA — Long-shot Republican U.S. Senate candidate Champ Edmunds hasn’t raised much campaign cash so far, but on Sunday, he found $12,000 cash in an abandoned backpack, outside his Missoula church.
“That’s what I thought it was: Somebody left some money for my campaign,” Edmunds said with a laugh on Monday. “And the other deacon (at the church) said, 'Hey, what are you talking about? That money was left for the church!’ ”
Whatever it was left for, the cash and other contents of the small backpack are now in the hands of the Missoula Police Department, which is searching for the owner.
Missoula Police Sgt. Travis Welsh said Monday the department is following up some leads on who may own the backpack, including whether it’s connected to a crime. He declined to provide further details.
However, Edmunds said police told him they found not only $12,182 cash in the backpack, but also six cellphones, an electronic tablet and forms of identification with the name of someone who has an outstanding arrest warrant.
“They said, 'If we find the owner and they want to donate it to the church, you’ll be the first to know,' ” Edmunds said.
Edmunds, a state representative from Missoula, is one of three Republicans running for the U.S. Senate this year in Montana.
Edmunds has been running for the seat since February 2013, but he’s facing an uphill climb in the Republican primary against U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., who got into the race last November and had nearly $2 million in his campaign fund as of last December.
Edmunds raised about $22,000 and spent most of it by that time. The other Republican in the race is political unknown Susan Cundiff of Missoula.
Three Democrats, including Sen. John Walsh, also are in the race, and Billings real estate broker Sam Rankin is trying to qualify for the ballot as an Independent.
Edmunds also is a deacon at the Journey Christian Fellowship, a church on Fifth Street West in Missoula, a few blocks south of downtown.
On Sunday morning, Edmunds and a fellow deacon, Blaine Soll, were cleaning up after an overflowed toilet in the church basement. Edmunds said he opened a door that led outside, to air out the hallway.
The door was blocked by a backpack, lying on the concrete landing at the base of an outside stairway.
As Edmunds picked it up, he said Soll actually joked to him, out loud: “Is it full of money?”
“And I looked up and said, `Well, yes, it is full of money,' ” Edmunds said.
Edmunds said the pack was filled with mostly crisp $100 bills, as well as other items. He called the police.
Welsh said police will keep the backpack and its contents up to 90 days, as they try to find the owner. If nobody claims it, the money is deposited in a city general fund — or the person who turned it in could ask for it back, he said.
Even if Edmunds gets the money, it could be too late for his campaign: The primary is June 3, a mere eight weeks and 56 days away.