HELENA – Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock and Republican state Sen. Duane Ankney are teaming up on a bill to fight “dark money” by requiring all political organizations to fully disclose who’s donating money to their groups and how they are spending it in campaigns.
Dark money is campaign spending by groups that don’t publicly report their donors or their spending.
Bullock and Ankney spoke at a news conference to highlight the bill, called the Montana Disclosure Act. It is expected to be introduced by Ankney next week.
“Dark money corrupts our election and is the 21st century version of the copper collar,” Bullock said, referring to the Anaconda Co.’s decades-long grip on Montana politics.
Bullock said he is joining forces with Ankney, because both of them been the targets of “intentionally misleading and downright false claims" by dark-money groups whose contributors aren’t identified.
The governor referenced the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision that allows corporations and unions to spend unlimited sums for independent expenditures in campaigns.
“We can’t solve all the national problems, but we certainly can ensure the integrity of our state elections because dark money does corrupt our elections,” Bullock said.
Ankney, a retired coal miner from Colstrip, put it in more blunt terms.
“This is to give us fair elections,” Ankney said. “When somebody’s hiding in the shadows and gut-shoots you, you have a right to know who’s taking a shot at you.”
Their bill requires that every penny spent in Montana elections must be disclosed by:
• Creating a new category of regulated political activity called “electioneering communications.”
• Requiring disclosure of any spending on “electioneering communications” made within 60 days of when voting begins in an election.
• Requiring disclosure from all groups making political expenditures or contributions during an election cycle.
• Increasing the frequency and length of time reporting is required during an election cycle.
Ankney urged the 30 percent of Montanans calling themselves Republicans, the 30 percent calling themselves Democrats and the 40 percent who say they are independents to email their legislators to urge passage of the bill.
The bill provides maximum fines for violations of $500 or three times the amount of any illegal expenditure.
Bullock teamed up with former Sen. Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, in 2013 on a similar bill called the Trace Act, but it failed at the Legislature.
Ankney said he is confident they can steer this bill to passage.
Bullock said three other bills that also will help clean up Montana elections.
House Bill 409 by Rep. Bryce Bennett, D-Missoula, would give the secretary of state the ability to dissolve corporations that are found guilty of violating campaign laws.
HB406 by Rep. Rob Cook, R-Conrad, would require individuals and entities contracting with the state to comply with state campaign laws or risk losing their contracts.
SB267 by Sen. Sue Malek, D-Missoula, would require the CEO of corporations and unions that qualify as political committees to certify their boards of directors have authorized spending or communications to any candidates or ballot issues.
Bullock was asked about his new role as chair of the Democratic Governors Association, which in the past has raised millions of dollars in dark money indirectly, as has the Republican Governors Association.
“The DGA won’t be spending any dark money to influence elections as long as I’m chair,” said Bullock, who was elected to that post last fall.
Chris Shipp, executive director of the Montana Republican Party, later called Bullock a hypocrite for condemning unlimited corporate cash in elections, but raising unlimited amounts of it for the DGA.
“Bullock’s latest pledge is that all the corporate cash he’s raising won’t be spent in elections,” Shipp said. “Montanans simply can’t trust Gov. Bullock to keep his word and they are growing tired of his hypocrisy and broken promises.”