Steps toward campaign finance reform in Montana
Montana is the latest state to step up and take on its own campaign finance reform measures, increasing state-level political transparency despite the federal government doing little to curb money’s rampant, borderline unregulated influence in politics.
Last month’s ballot initiatives passed in Maine and Seattle, along with Connecticut lawmakers’ recent upholding of its Citizens Election Fund program in the face of budget cuts, show that voters and lawmakers alike value and prioritize election reform.
Even though the Federal Election Commission (FEC) remains at a standstill, these recent shifts indicate that Americans are fed up with the wealth-skewed leanings of the current political landscape, and progress toward a more representative democracy is possible at the state level.
Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices, who has authority to make rules implementing the state’s campaign finance laws, recently finished a months-long review process for issuing new rules, including public input. The new rules require candidates and political committees to file reports electronically, which the Commissioner has said means that the reports will be available to the public online immediately and in searchable form.
Also new in these rules is a provision that third-party groups must report spending if their communications mention or use an image of a candidate within 90 days of an election. This lends crucial openness to an area of campaigning that has grown ever more opaque post-Citizens United, in which groups posing as “social welfare organizations” run “issue ads” that are in reality thinly veiled advocacy.
Montana’s push to oust secret money from its elections comes after the state passed the Disclose Act earlier this year in an effort to finally—after an initial failed attempt—address its corruption problem, which was exacerbated by Citizens United’s undoing of a century-old state law banning corporate contributions to campaigns. In support of the Disclose Act’s passing and election transparency in Montana, Governor Steve Bullock (D) proclaimed, “Our elections should be decided by Montanans, not shadowy dark money groups.”
Although far from perfect, Montana’s new rules are a small but necessary step toward shining a long-overdue light on dark money in its elections. This recent development bolsters other states’ clean election and campaign finance reform efforts and provides momentum for more states to follow suit.