The TV spots are already up. Social media are cranking out pop-ups. There was even an ill-advised print ad for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Troy Downing in the Missoula Independent.
It’s all about the money and who can raise the most. Policy, experience, character … who cares?
MTN’s Mike Dennison has a story titled, “Don’t look now – but here comes Election Year 2018 in Montana.” He writes about the $8 million Democratic Sen. Jon Tester raised on top of the $5.4 million he already has in the bank. Tester is going to need it since two of his potential Republican opponents are multi-millionaires: Downing and Matt Rosendale. Downing has already loaned his campaign $350,000.
Then there’s the U.S. House race with dark money loving Republican incumbent Greg Gianforte up against one of six, at this point, Democratic challengers. Since January 1, 2017, Gianforte has loaned his campaigns $1.5 million. He threw $5.5 million of his own money into the 2016 gubernatorial race.
Add millions of dollars in super PAC money, most of it dark, and you have a good chunk of change. (A quick aside: put that kind of cash in place of state budget cuts and you won’t have to throw some pregnant teenager out of her group home.)
Don’t expect to see any kind of forward-thinking legislation — environmental, health care, taxation, you name it — until we get big money out electoral politics. We used to have contribution and spending limits but the first blow to those came in our Bicentennial year, 1976, with the Supreme Court’s Buckley v. Valeo decision. Then, according to the Sunlight Foundation:
…the Supreme Court landed a one-two punch on the American political finance system with its more recent decisions in Citizens United and McCutcheon, opening the door to secret and nearly unlimited donations.
The electorate should be up in arms. Nowhere else in Democratic societies worldwide is this pay-to-play system as prevalent. In some countries, like Japan, candidates are prohibited from buying TV time — wouldn’t that be sweet!
Montanans should be particularly aware of the influence of money in politics, having had legislatures purchased by the Copper Kings at the turn of the last century.
Of course, the other effect is diminished participation: the average citizen feeling their vote is meaningless compared to the influence of million dollar contributors, or they’re just disgusted by the onslaught of sleazy, negative advertising that paints all candidates as scurvy dogs and come election day, they just stay home.
Both parties are guilty of accepting special interest contributions but at least the Democrats make some efforts at campaign finance reform. Until the voters demand that reform be a top priority, and then get candidates elected who will advance it — and who will also confirm reform-minded Supreme Court justices — we’re screwed.