Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Good news for Montanans

There are still places in America where sensible, commonsense regulations can be crafted in a bipartisan fashion. Montana is one of them.

Back in 2010, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy famously posited that unlimited corporate money donations could not possibly lead to corruption or any erosion of people’s faith in the fairness of elections. That fantasy theory became the law of the land as the Supreme Court ruled in favor of corporate “free speech” and  Citizens United.

At that time, Montana, which is part of The Real World™, had a very strong campaign finance law in place because of abuses from the early 1900’s related to copper mining:

Montana’s massive copper mining corporations and those who controlled them-known as the “Copper Kings”-dominated state government and elections. “The corruption of Montana politics was by no means limited to bribery,” explains the state’s [attorney general in 2011], Steve Bullock. “The ‘Copper Kings’ dominated political debate in Montana and drowned out Montanans’ own voices. This was corruption as it was understood since the framing of the Constitution: not mere theft or bribery, but harnessing government power to benefit a single corporate faction at the expense of the broader and more diverse interests represented by the people themselves.”

A strong law banning corporate money from elections, the Corrupt Practices Act, was passed in 1912. The Montana law was challenged and ruled unconstitutional in December 2011 because of the Citizens United ruling.

Fast forward to 2015. Montana has now put in place a law that will not run afoul of the Supreme Court’s guidelines, that you can’t restrict the money but you can require disclosure of where the money is coming from.

Even the Supreme Court agreed that identifying the sources of campaign contributions would not limit free speech and invited Congress to pass some laws related to disclosure. The lame duck Congress of 2010 had the opportunity to do so and came up short because of the extra-constitutional 60 vote requirement for legislation to pass in the Senate (a law had already passed in the Democratic House of Representatives).

Montana’s bipartisan legislation was signed by Gov. Steve Bullock (D), the state’s former attorney general, who had made getting this law in place a priority for his administration:

In early 2015, Bullock teamed up with Republican state Sen. Duane Ankney to introduce Montana Disclose Act. The bill passed the Senate on the first try and went to the House, where a bipartisan majority of 41 Democrats and 10 Republicans passed it 51-48. The bill was sent to the governor’s desk on Wednesday. […]

The bill will require all groups, no matter their tax status, to disclose their donors if they spend money on electoral communications either targeting or mentioning a candidate within 60 days of an election.

Governor Bullock on the Montana Disclose Act (PDF):

“Montana elections are about to become the most transparent in the nation, requiring those trying to influence our elections to come out of the dark money shadows,” Gov. Steve Bullock (D), who plans to sign the bill, said in a statement. “Our elections should be decided by Montanans, not shadowy dark money groups.” […]

“What Montana shows is that the issue of money in politics is really only a partisan issue in Washington, D.C.,” Adam Smith, spokesman for the campaign finance reform group Every Voice, said. “People can come together — Republicans and Democrats — and pass real effective reforms of the system.”

Two other states have similar bans: California, which passed legislation, and New York, where rules were imposed through regulatory action.

Good job, Montana. Insuring clean honest elections is not a red state or blue state issue … it is an issue essential to the democracy of the United States.



  1. I hope their courageous protection of honest elections is rewarded by the citizens of their state.

    Draining the swamp … one state at a time.

  2. The Koch group alone will spend close to a billion and both frontrunners, Gov. Bush and Secretary Clinton, have stated that they will need a few billion apiece.

    Hillary Clinton spoke about the need to get dark money out of politics and suggests a constitutional amendment:

    We need to fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccounted money out of it, once and for all, even if that takes a constitutional amendment,” she said to a gathering at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa.

    Campaign finance reform is one of four pillars, “four big fights,” of her campaign, she said, along with help for families and communities; a stronger, more balanced economy; and a strong national defense.

    Republican presidential hopeful Lindsey Graham has also spoken about the need to address this issue:

    “The next president of the United States needs to get a commission of really smart people and find a way to create a constitutional amendment to limit the role of superPACs,” said Graham, a senator from South Carolina who is weighing a presidential run.

    The problem is more than Citizens United, it goes all the way back to 1976:

    Campaign spending has been constitutionally protected since a 1976 Supreme Court decision known as Buckley v. Valeo. The justices said Congress could not regulate political spending, because it was tantamount to free speech. All subsequent attempts to control political money have had to work around the Buckley distinction between contributions and spending.

    Former Democratic presidential candidate and New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley said as early as the 1990s that a constitutional amendment was needed to overturn Buckley. In 2012, he told NPR’s Talk Of The Nation, “You need a constitutional amendment that says federal, state and local governments may limit the amount of money in a campaign.”

    Republicans are resistant to a change probably because, as the number of actual voters supporting their policies shrinks, their only hope is to spend obscene amounts of money to tar their opponents and lie about their own records.

    And of course, the naysayers are suggesting that Secretary Clinton is a hypocrite as she heads into the presidential cycle much like they called Barack Obama a hypocrite for eschewing federal funds (and spending limits) for his two campaigns. No. We can’t lay down our weapons and hope that our opponents do as well. The only way to get both sides to lay down their weapons at the same time is to make it the law of the land. Maybe the optics of spending $5 or 6 billion on a presidential race will break the logjam and get something done.

    It does not necessarily need a constitutional amendment. The DISCLOSE Act that died in the Senate in 2010 by failing cloture by one vote, would have done a lot to limit dark money. If someone wants to exercise their free speech by contributing to a candidate, fine. But we need to make them get up on the soapbox and tell us their name so we can find out just who they represent and if their donation is actually a bribe.

Comments are closed.