Montana Gov. Steve Bullock is pushing back against fundraising laws that have allowed federal officeholders seeking the presidency to transfer millions from their existing campaign accounts, leaving him and other current and former state officials scrambling to catch up.
Bullock on Thursday released a plan that bars members of Congress and the president from holding onto money in their campaign accounts after an election. The plan also calls for barring federal officeholders from fundraising for the first half of their term in office.
The proposals are part of a broader plan to limit the influence of money in politics and expand voting access. The plan is being introduced as Bullock has struggled to break through the crowded field of 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls as many of his rivals, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, have been able to transfer millions from their Senate campaign accounts to their presidential campaigns.
“Expecting our elected leaders to spend at least half of their time actually doing their jobs might sound radical in D.C., but for the rest of us it’s just common sense,” Bullock said in a statement. “Washington hasn’t passed a budget on time in more than 20 years, yet members of Congress spend half their days soliciting donations from wealthy donors and big corporations. It’s time for our elected officials to do their job instead of spending their time on a never-ending re-election campaign.”
Under the plan, if members of Congress and the president have leftover funds in their campaign accounts after an election, they would have to refund donors, donate the money to charity, donate it to the presidential matching funds program or donate it to the U.S. government to reduce the deficit.
The plan also calls for passing an amendment to the Constitution reversing the landmark 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United ruling that allows unlimited amounts of political spending by businesses, labor unions and nonprofit groups.
He and two other former or current governors — Colorado’s John Hickenlooper and Washington’s Jay Inslee — struggled as they were barred by federal campaign finance rules from transferring money from the state campaign finance accounts to their presidential accounts. Hickenlooper and Inslee both dropped out of the race for the White House, leaving Bullock as the lone governor in the Democratic field.
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New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who dropped out of the race in August, was able to take advantage of nearly $10 million she transferred from her Senate account before leaving the race. Warren, who is shunning high-dollar fundraisers, brought $10.5 million over from her Senate account earlier this year.
Sanders transferred $4 million from his Senate account, while California Sen. Kamala Harris brought over $2.2 million from hers.
It’s not clear how Bullock plans to get the proposal passed. It’s likely to hit a roadblock from Republicans controlling the Senate, who would argue it infringes on free speech rights, and a U.S. Supreme Court that might agree.
He has spent years advocating for tighter regulation of money in politics, unsuccessfully challenging the Citizens United ruling as attorney general and then, as governor, signing a law that requires dark-money groups operating in the state to disclose their donors.
While campaigning for president, Bullock has divided his time on the road, focusing heavily in Iowa, and governing back home in Montana, though he points out governing is a 24/7 job no matter what else he's doing.
From when he announced his campaign May 14 to the end of August, Bullock had spent about 42 days in Montana, according to information collected by Lee Newspapers. That compares with about 21 in Iowa, with the rest of his time in states like New Hampshire and major media markets of New York City and Washington, D.C. He's also spent three days in Utah for his last meeting as head of the National Governors Association.
Lee Newspapers Capitol Bureau reporter Holly Michels contributed to this story.