For the first time in a century, corporations and unions now have no limits on how much they can spend on political candidate campaigns in Montana. The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last week, overturning Montana’s 100-year-old Corrupt Practices Act, means voters can expect to see an explosion of attack ads, phone calls, mailers and more from vaguely named groups located out of state – all aimed at pushing the new limits of what’s allowable in Montana.
The stakes are high here, where a U.S. Senate seat, the governor’s office and other major elected positions will be decided this fall. But those elections will not be decided by court rulings, campaign contributions or even the candidates themselves. They will be decided by Montana voters.
That is why it is of the utmost importance that Montanans, throughout this election season, collectively hold fast to the spirit of the Corrupt Practices Act of 1912, and require that the candidates vying for our votes do the same.
Montana voters must do two things. We must demand that candidates refuse to accept campaign contributions from corporations – and if they will not, we must demand that they fully disclose the sources of all such contributions. The best part is, Montana doesn’t have to wait on any court ruling or legislation or election before making these demands: We can start now.
In the meantime, U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., will be pushing a proposed constitutional amendment that would return the right to regulate political donations to the states. And a group called Stand with Montanans has qualified an initiative, I-166, that would specifically ask Montana’s congressional delegation to rally around efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution in such a way as to nullify the Supreme Court’s decision.
What the court decided is that political speech – in the form of political contributions – is covered by the First Amendment, even when it comes from a corporation or union. In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court effectively struck down Montana’s ban on corporate donations to political candidates, which had been the law of our land since the Corrupt Practices Act of 1912.
Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock, a Democrat running for governor against Republican candidate Rick Hill, unsuccessfully defended Montana’s position before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Montana Supreme Court, by the way, had upheld the prohibition against corporate political campaign contributions – shortly before the U.S. Supreme Court reversed it.
If the ideas behind the Corrupt Practices Act are truly important to Montanans, then it’s up to Montana voters to uphold them. We must demand of our candidates that they show their values are truly in line with Montanans – and that their campaigns reflect those values, too.
Don’t put up with the usual pandering and excuses. Every serious candidate should know where every last campaign dollar comes from, and they should be prepared to share that information with voters the moment that money is received. It’s fairly easy for campaign staffers to track and update such information these days, given the wonders of technology.
Candidates who fail to make such disclosures should not receive our votes. It’s the only way Montana can hope to elect officials who will truly represent the public’s interests. If they won’t come clean about their campaign cash, any other statements or promises they make should be considered suspect as well.
To a large extent, it’s always been up to individual voters to determine just how much influence campaign contributions have over our elections. For the next few months at least, it is even more critical that Montana voters impose our own limits.
EDITORIAL BOARD: Publisher Jim McGowan, Editor Sherry Devlin, Opinion Editor Tyler Christensen