Regulating so-called “dark money” to limit corporate influence in elections has received strong backing from Republican lawmakers in Montana, including the Flathead Valley. Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester recently set the issue on a loftier platform when he introduced a constitutional amendment to reform campaign finance, and said he’d need support from both sides of the aisle.
“There is a good number of Republican legislators in Montana who want to end this, and we should end this,” Tester said at a press conference in Washington, D.C. “It should be a bipartisan issue. It’s not good for the Republicans, its not good for Democrats, but most of all, it’s not good for our democracy.”
In introducing the amendment, Tester said his proposal to change the U.S. Constitution – which has not occurred in two decades – is in response to last year’s voter-approved initiative that directed Montana’s elected officials to declare that corporations are not people entitled to constitutional rights.
Although the amendment faces long odds, Tester was hopeful it would receive bipartisan support.
“We are hoping to get lots of votes from both sides but it is going to take some work,” he said.
Tester aims to settle the debate over free speech and reshape campaign finance policy by overturning the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which freed up campaign spending by overturning a century-old citizens’ initiative banning some corporate contributions.
The decision stated that barring corporate spending in elections was an unconstitutional free speech restriction.
A vocal critic of the decision, Tester said the proposed amendment includes safeguards stating that individual freedom of speech, religion, the press and other rights are not affected.
Joining Tester in opposition to dark money was U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., who introduced a companion amendment. Constitutional amendments require two-thirds support in each chamber of Congress and ratification by the states.
“My grandfather ran for Supreme Court in 1948 and he campaigned on $928,” Udall said. “Money was not flooding the system the way it is today.”
Tester, who was re-elected last year in an expensive election that saw him edge out former U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, pointed to his own experience as proof of outside money’s corruptive force.
“In 2006 when I ran, I spent $26 million. In 2012 I spent $47 million. That’s almost one-hundred bucks a vote because of dark money,” he said. “We went through a lot of unnecessary advertising, and ran 50 percent more television ads in the month of October than any other Senate race anywhere. Some of it was for me and some of it was against me, but it needs to be transparent if we are going to put the elections back in the hands of the voters.”
Last month, State Sen. Bruce Tutvedt of Kalispell was among a group of Republican lawmakers who launched plans for a ballot measure that would shed light on dark money, noting that out-of-state groups with nothing more than a P.O. Box for identification can funnel senate primaries with up to $100,000.
The state’s new commissioner of political practices, Jonathan Motl, announced that he would begin issuing decisions on a host of complaints about the disclosure of money in politics. Appointed by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock in June, Motl takes over as commissioner on the heels of a divisive Legislature that wrangled over plans to force more transparency surrounding campaign finance, but failed to pass any new laws on the matter.
“In the Copper Kind days of Montana the government was all but bought and paid for,” Tester said, referring to the influential industrialists who prospered in the Gilded Age. “Enough is enough. There will be no truth in politics until voters can follow the money.”
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