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The current session of the Montana Legislature is past its mid-point. Yet one vital item remains on its agenda: To finally do something about “dark money” political spending in our state.

Nearly every Montanan with a telephone number or mailbox has seen the result of this hidden spending. Each election cycle, we get more and more mysterious phone calls and mailers disparaging candidates for office and telling us how to vote.

The groups making these calls and sending this mail all seem to have positive, pleasant-sounding names. But that’s about all we really know about them. Who funds them and how they spend their money is a mystery, as is exactly what they are trying to accomplish.

From what the media has been able to find out, many of these groups aren’t even based in Montana. Yet, they are spending huge amounts of money to influence our politics and the future of our state.

This is where the Legislature comes in. The Montana Disclose Act, Senate Bill 289, which recently passed with bipartisan support in the Senate, is now in the House. It is our last, best chance before the next election cycle to place some accountability on dark money groups in our state elections. Such disclosure of who is funding these campaigns helps in the public debate during our elections.

The act simply requires these groups to disclose their donors and their political expenditures. Under Montana law, individuals who donate to political campaigns and candidates must disclose their name, occupation and address. Dark money groups should be required to do the same.

This common-sense measure is sponsored by Rep. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip, and Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat. In this day and age, it’s refreshing to see Republicans and Democrats working together to support policy that will benefit our state. Such was the case when SB289 passed the Senate by a vote of 28-22 with both Democratic and Republican support.

Hopefully, members of both parties in the House will also agree. Democrats and Republicans are working together, but some legislators have not yet endorsed this important measure. Please contact your House member and tell them to vote yes for SB289.

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The Disclose Act applies to any group that spends money in support or opposition to a candidate or ballot issue during the 60-day window before an election. This includes corporations and labor unions, alike. The measure has been endorsed by the state’s two largest papers: the Billings Gazette and my home paper, the Missoulian.

Clearly, this measure is fair and sensible. It is in the best interest of our state to shed a light on campaign spending. Doing so will elevate the spirit of political debate and ensure we know who is working to influence the politics of our state and why.

Please tell your House member to vote in favor of the Montana Disclose Act (SB289). You can identify and contact your representative at leg.mt.gov or by calling the capitol information desk at (406) 444-4800.

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C.B. Pearson of Missoula is a member of Common Cause Montana and testified in favor of Senate Bill 289 last week. He has been an advocate for campaign reform in Montana for the last 30 years.

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