HELENA – A House panel voted Monday to kill the measure intended to shed light on political “dark money” in Montana, by forcing disclosure of individuals and groups that finance political attack ads and other material.
The House Judiciary Committee voted largely along party lines, with all Republicans in opposition, to table Senate Bill 375, a bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Jim Peterson and supported by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock.
Supporters tried later Monday to resurrect the bill on the House floor, but fell six short of the needed 60 votes to remove a bill from a House committee.
Republicans on the Judiciary Committee said the bill tries to do too many things and may not solve the problem of unreported money being spent on elections.
“It feels as though with this bill, that we’re pounding a nail with a 10-pound sledge,” Rep. Dennis Lenz, R-Billings, told the full House. “I would just encourage (members) to watch your fingers when you do that.”
Peterson, of Buffalo, said Republican leadership at the Legislature wanted to kill his bill because they fear that disclosure will harm the ability of outside groups to raise and spend money on behalf of certain Republicans.
“It’s too bad we don’t have the courage to do this, for the integrity of the (political) system, if nothing else,” Peterson said. “In the long term, `dark money’ is going to pollute the process and just create more acrimony within the political process.”
Bullock said in a statement Monday evening that “dark-money forces have a stranglehold on too many members of our Legislature.”
Those participating in campaigns “should simply have to stand up and say who they are, not hide in the shadows,” Bullock said.
“Dark money” refers to spending by certain groups for broadcast ads, fliers and other material during campaign seasons that attack or support candidates running for office. These groups currently are not required to disclose their donors or how and when they make campaign-related expenditures.
SB375 would require these groups to publicly report their donors and spending if the money for material mentioning a candidate, political party or ballot issue and is made within 90 days of an election.
It also increases the amount of money individuals and political parties can donate to candidates each election.
Peterson has said the higher contribution limits will allow individuals and committees to give more directly to candidates, rather than routing that money through “dark money” groups.
Supporters of the bill urged House members to bring it to the floor for debate, but to no avail.
“When I have something to say, I’m not afraid to step into the sunlight and put my name to it,” said Rep. Jeff Welborn, R-Dillon. “That’s what this bill is asking people to do.”
Fifteen Republicans joined all 39 House Democrats in voting to bring SB375 to the House floor, but fell short of the 60 votes needed.