Sen. Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, is gathering bipartisan support for a bill that will close a loophole that adversely impacts Montana politics. Currently PACs calling themselves “educational” need not disclose their source of money. We’ve seen the result: Outside “dark money” influences are undermining the spirit of local representative government.
Campaigns are shifting from grassroots efforts to a high-stakes, top-down process funded by out-of-area special interests. Legislative races should be about rounding up a few volunteers, meeting constituents door-to-door, costing nothing. Yard signs, print and radio ads and a mailing or two are within the budget of a dedicated citizen legislator with local supporters – the folks they pledge to represent.
But this ideal has been shoved aside by manipulations from anonymous wealthy sources with outside agendas. We saw dark money groups repeatedly lob untruths in slick Photoshopped mass mailers and tattle-tale toned radio ads. Statewide and congressional races were targeted in TV ads ad nauseam. These abusers of free speech have spoiled the process for everyone, bringing on more regulations.
Free speech isn’t libelous speech cloaked in anonymity. Free speech is dialogue where both sides express themselves. Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr’s philosophical disagreement – the most famous in American history – was carried out publicly in newspapers and eventually, and primitively, in the street where they were (at least) given a fair chance at shooting one another.
I trust both legislative houses and the governor will pass Sen. Peterson’s bill so candidates can get out on that public stump and carry on honest political dialogue.
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