By Martin Kidston
Gov. Steve Bullock on Tuesday praised a federal court ruling that upheld the state’s new campaign-disclosure law, saying the decision will bring dark money into the light and keep the state’s elections fair and transparent.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen of Missoula rejected a 2015 challenge by Montanans for Community Development. The pro-business group contended that the new state law – signed by Bullock nearly two years ago – restricted free speech.
“Due to the dramatic rise in election spending in the last few decades, Montana’s voters are inundated with political television advertisements and mailers,” the judge wrote. “Providing Montana voters with information about individuals and groups competing for their attention serves important government interests.”
The state Legislature passed the Disclose Act on a bipartisan, yet narrow, vote in 2015. The law requires political action committees to report their spending, and it restricts coordination between outside groups and political candidates.
Bullock praised the decision at a campaign rally in Missoula on Tuesday.
“The Disclose Act is a pretty simple idea, but it’s central to making sure our elections are fair and transparent,” Bullock said. “It simply requires political organizations to disclose who’s actually paying for stuffing your mailboxes and everything else.”
Montanans for Community Development presents its mission as one to “promote and encourage polices that create jobs and grow local economics. It does not disclose its donors or spending.
In his ruling, Christensen cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling which, by a 5-4 vote, determined that it was unconstitutional for the government to restrict political spending by corporations in an election.
Yet while the high court stated that disclosure requirements may burden free speech, they are still constitutional since they don’t prevent speech.
“Secretive dark money organizations like Montanans for Community Development still have the right to send all the political mailers they want,” Bullock said. “But they can’t do it from the shadows. If they want to influence our political elections, they have to disclose who’s paying for it. That’s how we do it in Montana.”
Arron Flint said Greg Gianforte, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, has refused special interest PAC money in the election and supports openness and transparency in elections.
That’s how he has run his campaign,” said Flint, who serves as Gianforte’s spokesman. “The next Legislature will eye any strengths or weaknesses in the law that may need to be addressed.”