Opinion: Governor & US Senate – it’s all about the money

Evan Barrett

Looking at who to vote for in the Governor and US Senate races, I’ve been wading through a tsunami of political advertising like we’ve never seen before. Then it hit me like a bolt of lightning – it’s all about the money!

That’s money in two different ways: using personal money to “buy” an election; and stopping the tsunami of spending unleashed by Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision which equated money to free speech.

Trying to personally buy an election applies directly to our governorship. The case in point is Greg Gianforte whose wealth of $135 million exceeds that of 99.99% of all Americans

Now, using that money to buy your privates jets and all is OK, but more questionable is when you try to buy the state – or at least our governorship, which is what Gianforte is trying to do.

In 2016 Gianforte spent $5.8 million of his own money in his failed effort to buy our governorship. He then bought and body-slammed his way to our Congressional seat in 2017, and has now returned to try to buy the Governorship in 2020.

This year Gianforte has put $7.54 million into his political purchase of our governorship. In total, Gianforte has spent some $13,340,000 of his spare change to be your governor and push his strange ideas on taxation, education and social services.

The median household income in Montana is $52,559. That’s not salary, that’s total household income. Fifty percent of Montana families are below that figure, some way below. For most Montanans, it would take 254 years of your total family earnings to equal what Gianforte has spent of his own money to try to be your governor – 254 years’ worth!

Montana hasn’t seen such a misuse of personal wealth for political gain since the nefarious Copper King, W.A. Clark, bribed his way to one of Montana’s US Senate seats over a century ago.

Can a person spending $13.34 million of his own money to buy an election be expected to relate to and represent everyday Montanans? Actually, a person who buys an election has only one constituent – and it isn’t you!

You can see money impacting the US Senate race between Governor Bullock and Senator Daines by simply watching television. In just three weeks in September the campaigns ran their TV ads 44,300 times, turning voters against the political process. Everyone is sick of the volume of the ads, not just the content.

The problem is both the source and the volume of money thanks to the US Supreme Court decision in “Citizens United,” where corporations were effectively granted political citizenship and money was determined to be free speech. Because of Citizens United, the two Montana senate campaigns and outside groups are expected to spend a combined $184 on advertising for each of the state’s 729,000 registered voters – nearly $135 million in advertising alone. Overall spending is expected is to be over $150 million.

Citizens United radically changed the political landscape, empowering money over everything else. The resulting deluge of dollars is not good for democracy. Montanans don’t like it and have expressed that at the ballot box.

In 2012, 75% of Montana voters established “a state policy that corporations are not entitled to constitutional rights because they are not human beings,” and called for a level playing field in part by limiting political campaign spending. Their vote in 2012 also called for elected officials to work to change Citizens United.

So, how have Bullock and Daines honored the wishes of Montanans to clean up this mess imposed by the Supreme Court? Bullock’s record is outstanding. The organization “End Citizens United’ has endorsed Bullock because of his decade-long battle for limiting corporate and secret money in politics, perhaps the best such record in the nation.

Daines’ record is not so good. He’s either silent on ending Citizens United or uses “free speech” as a rationale for leaving it in place.

It is all about the money. If you want to change the tsunami of money in all races, Steve Bullock is on your side. If you don’t want Montana bought by the highest bidder with the greatest personal wealth, Mike Cooney needs to your choice for Governor.

Evan Barrett lives in historic Uptown Butte after retiring following 47 years at the top level of Montana economic development, government, politics and education.  He is an award-winning producer of Montana history videos who continues to write columns and commentaries and occasionally teaches Montana history.