The Fight Continues to Restore American Democracy. The Enemy: Dark Money.

Governor Steve Bullock has backed a bill that would end the dangerous practice of allowing foreign money and corporations to circumvent our election laws and weaken our democracy.

Governor Bullock:

“Our democratic elections are one of our country’s great equalizers?—?but only if they are truly elections, not auctions that are sold to the highest bidder. Montanans and Americans must be able to trust that their government works for them, not dark money interests or foreign countries.

That’s why I’m proposing to expressly outlaw foreign spending in Montana elections. We’ll close the Citizens United loophole by defining corporations, governments, and nationals as “foreign-influenced” if their true owners can’t spend in our elections, and are using domestic shell corporations to evade the law.”

Senate Bill 326, written by Governor Bullock, his Chief Legal Counsel Raph Graybill, and Senator Nate McConnell is aimed at outlawing foreign spending in Montana elections by banning foreign corporations, governments, and nationals from hiding being domestic shell corporations to make their donations.

SB 326 has already passed the Montana Senate 47-3 and Friday it received a hearing in the House State Administration Committee.

The Governor’s Chief Legal Raph Graybill spoke specifically Friday about how the Citizens’ United decision created this loophole in our campaign finance system that foreign nationals are now exploiting.

Citing a recent investigation by the Federal Elections Commission (FEC), Graybill explained how a Chinese company gave $1.3 million to Jeb Bush’s Super PAC by using a domestic corporation to essentially money launder their donation. The FEC issued a record fine in the case but the investigation took over 2 years to complete and who knows how many other foreign nationals are using a domestic corporation to funnel money to American candidates.

Despite this ruling by the FEC, Graybill said the federal government is not coming to save Montana or any other state from foreign influences. The FEC is not doing their jobs and not enforcing their own federal probations on foreign spending. The FEC has essentially been gutted by Republicans with limited resources to investigate or enforce violations of foreign nationals donating to politicians.

SB 326 will prevent foreign owners of domestic companies from laundering their money to political PACs in Montana and giving Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices (COPP) the tools to enforce the current bans on foreign donations, issue fines, and begin investigations.

Governor Bullock is the national leader in campaign finance reform and has been called “the biggest threat to Citizens United.” As Montana’s Attorney General, Bullock was the only one in the nation to challenge the Citizens’ United decision all the way up to the United States Supreme Court.

Then in 2015, Governor Bullock worked with Republicans and Democrats to pass the DISCLOSE Act to require the disclosure of donors to independent group spending money on state-level elections. In 2016, the dark money groups that dominated the 2012 election in Montana largely stayed out.

Recently, Governor Bullock and Raph Graybill have turned up the heat on going after dark money spending in Montana’s elections.

In 2018, Bullock and Graybill wrote the first-in-the-nation dark money executive order requiring government contractors to disclose secret spending. Then they sued the IRS over its decision to shield dark money donors from disclosure. This is something the Montana Attorney General’s Office should have done but refused to sue the feds and defend Montanans.

Governor Bullock’s decade of work exposing and eliminating the influence of dark money in Montana is a striking difference to current Attorney General Tim Fox’s clear absence on the issue. We need an advocate fighting for Montanans on this issue in 2020.

Montanans demand a government that works for them not dark money corporations or foreign nationals. Tim Fox’s support for big money and his silence on this important issue that both Democrats and Republicans in Montana care about is a clear indication of who he really works for.

Tim Fox is termed out as Attorney General but thinks he can somehow become Governor after doing nothing for 8 years to protect Montana’s elections. The Attorney General seat will be open and Montanan’s should demand a candidate who will protect them from the growing influence of corporations buying our election and high-jacking our democracy.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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Nathan Kosted

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