Two For Thought

Dark Money

Same topic, different views

By Joe Carbonari

What do contributors to the Montana Growth Network have in common? Significant financial resources, for sure. Their businesses interests include steel, coal, gas, and oil, broadcasting, and money management. Three of the contributors own properties in Montana with rivers running through them. They are involved in legal actions concerning the maintenance, or not, of public access. They care about Montana, our resources, our laws, and our regulations.

Their Montana Growth Network was formed in 2011. By early 2012 they had close to $900,000 to spend. There were 13 contributors, all from out of state. Charles Schwab donated $200,000. James Kennedy Cox, the broadcasting mogul with the not-so public access legal action, gave $100,000. Privacy, perhaps, at a price. Tens of thousands of dollars went to the benefit of Laurie McKinnon, who was running against Ed Sheehy for a Montana Supreme Court seat. She won.

The money was spent and the election held in 2012. We learned of the identities of these contributors only recently. They kept their names secret and have fought legally to do so. Justice McKinnon may have had little knowledge or control of this campaign assistance, and she may be fully deserving of the job, but there is danger in the way that she got it.

Big, anonymous money has and is being used to affect our laws and our lives. Dark money suggests dark deeds. Let’s shine some light.


By Tim Baldwin

There is an allegation that Montana Supreme Court Justice Laurie McKinnon — a “conservative” — was elected because of dark money contributed by superrich out-of-state interests like Charles Schwab, James Cox Kennedy, Kenneth Siebal, Great Northern Properties, Continental Resources, and the Boich Family. Does it matter?

Human experience proves that money can corrupt politics. So can political parties (as necessary as they may be), which is why Montana does not let judicial candidates campaign under party affiliation. Money can and does cause politicians to sell out votes and focus agenda on what the superrich want and not what the public good requires. Judges may be susceptible to the same influence by big money interests.

While one may argue that morally sound politicians will not let money corrupt their political or legal decisions, constitutions are created because people do not want to put all their trust in the individual character of the politician. Rather, we want to create a system of laws that protects liberty, rights and due process. This is why, in part, many advocate for a federal Amendment Convention – because the system does not adequately protect these things anymore.

People should know who is funding public campaigns and pass laws that protect the political process. Public officials’ decisions affect all of us, and most of us cannot afford to buy political favor.