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Money in politics

The new, bipartisan House Resolution 2 has been six years in the making. It now presents a chance for Montana to show the country how trust can build and lead to a shared goal: “to propose a Constitutional amendment abolishing corporate personhood and declaring that money is not free speech.”

The hearing for HR2 will be on Wednesday, Jan. 30 at 9 a.m. and needs your support in person, or by phone or messaging.

The voters of Montana reached across party lines six years ago, in 2012, when they supported Initiative 166 with a majority in every county and 74.67 percent of all voters, and called for the amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that dismantled our election laws.

Voters have waited for the Legislature to become ready to join them. We share Montana’s early heritage of overcoming corporate corruption by passing the 1912 Citizens’ Initiative, the Montana Corrupt Practices Act, which resulted in 100 years of protection for our citizen legislature.

Missoula has helped raise awareness of the need for the amendment. Each January, citizens stand in support of the mayor’s proclamation at City Council supporting amending the Constitution. They join in the free Chili Feed and Speak Out at the library sponsored by Montanans Move to Amend (see box for details).

This seems to be the right time for Montana to go forward, probably because of several developments. During the last six years, Montanans have been working together, especially when outside interests step outside the bounds we consider reasonable and fair.

And during the last nine years, since the 2010 court decision, Montanans have witnessed mounting evidence that the five U.S. Supreme Court justices used legal arguments that did not take into account the real-world forces they unleashed that are undermining our democracy. Think of a forest fire and how internal forces can build to the point of actually creating its own weather, with higher and higher winds until an inferno grows exponentially.

We are facing national forces that are fueling their own interests, distorting our democracy and, in turn, our economy, leading to more distortion, until we citizens have to intervene and change the root cause of the spiraling forces.

The growth of money in our campaigns was inevitable. In Montana, from 2014-2018, contributions for the U.S. Senate seat grew 23 percent and the U.S. House, 187 percent (followthemoney.org).

Nationally, “super PACs spent nearly $818 million in the 2018 elections, a monumental increase from the $345 million they spent in the previous midterm cycle.” Individual megadonors are taking drastically bigger roles: in “the 2016 election cycle... more that $1 billion came from the top 40 donors” (opensecrets.org).

Wealth inequality provides the fuel for influencing elections and it is growing. In Montana, our income inequality is growing faster than any other state, mostly from unearned income like capital gains, trust income and real estate investments (Missoulian, March 12, 2018).

Nationally, in 2018, the three richest Americans had “the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the U.S. population” while worldwide, “the 26 richest billionaires own as many assets as the poorest half of the world’s population (3.8 billion people)” (Oxfam).

Meanwhile, citizens have fewer journalists to rely on to expose these issues, with local newspapers declining 26 percent and media becoming concentrated from 50 companies to only six.

Our democracy needs to respond to these challenges before the fuels build to such an extent that they pit us against each other. The constitutional amendment will let us restore an even playing field, so Montana can continue to work together.

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Sue Kirchmyer is chair of the Missoula Chapter of Montanans Move to Amend. 

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