Initiative to stem political `dark money’ ready for signatures

2013-10-08T16:39:00Z 2013-10-09T00:13:09Z Initiative to stem political `dark money’ ready for signaturesGazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette
October 08, 2013 4:39 pm  • 

HELENA — The petition for a voter initiative to shine a light on political “dark money” in Montana is ready to gather signatures to attempt to place it on the 2014 ballot, supporters said Tuesday.

The measure is Initiative 168, which, if approved by voters, would require public reporting of all campaign-related spending by independent groups, as well the group’s donors.

I-168 also would add new definitions of the type of spending that must be reported, including any “communication” that directly names a candidate for state office in Montana.

“I-168, the Stop Dark Money Initiative, ensures the voters’ right to know who is sending political messages in Montana and who is paying for them,” said Sen. Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, a lead supporter of the measure. “They will have information about who is influencing our state and local races.”

Under current laws, some nonprofit groups can avoid reporting what they spend on campaign-related advertisements or who their donors are by saying they are an “educational” group that focuses on issues rather than campaigns.

In past Montana elections, they have distributed fliers or paid advertisements attacking candidates, but say the material is merely educating voters on the candidates’ position on issues.

When the specific source of these groups’ money goes undisclosed, it is often called “dark money.”

“Too many of our legislators appear to be beholden to large, out-of-state donors,” Peterson said. “This initiative will help keep Montanans in control of their own state and their own representation.”

To place I-168 on the 2014 ballot, supporters must obtain the signatures of 24,175 registered voters statewide and, in at least 34 state House districts, signatures of at least 5 percent of the number of people who voted for governor in the past election.

Supporters said they are looking for volunteers to gather signatures on the petitions, which have been approved by the secretary of state for circulation.

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