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Campaign Finance

Montana Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock signs a bill requiring more disclosure surrounding campaign donations on April 22, 2015, at the Capitol in Helena, while Rep. Frank Garner, left, and Sen. Duane Ankney look on.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to review an appeal of Montana’s 2015 DISCLOSE Act, which upholds a lower federal court ruling that Montana’s disclosure requirements are constitutional.

The DISCLOSE Act is one of the most transparent campaign finance laws in the nation, and as a result of the Supreme Court decision, it’s here to stay.

For over 100 years, Montana has led the way in clean government and transparent elections, despite attempts by out-of-state interests to time and time again overturn the will of the Montana people. Today, the DISCLOSE Act is another victory Montanans can claim over big money that wants to make our decisions for us.

The origins of the corrupting role of money in politics are as old as politics itself, but our current predicament has a special, recent catalyst: the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United.

Since then dark money spending in our elections went from about $5 million in 2004 to over $300 million by 2012. That’s a 6,000% increase in just two presidential cycles.

Money in politics is fundamentally eroding American democracy and what it should (or used to) stand for  —  a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

When the Citizens United ruling came down, most decried the ruling but they didn’t actually do anything about it. Folks had a chance to act, but instead everyone basically said, “game over” and moved on. Not us in Montana. As attorney general, I personally defended our state’s own Corrupt Practices Act of 1912 after the Citizens United decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

As governor, we brought together Republicans and Democrats to pass the DISCLOSE Act.

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I also signed a first-of-its-kind executive order requiring the recipients of major government contracts to disclose dark money spending in our elections.

And last year, I sued the IRS over their decision to abandon disclosure requirements for major donors to dark money groups. That case is pending in federal court.

Campaign finance is an issue that affects every American citizen, from the halls of Congress to the kitchen tables here in Montana.

Our hopes for the many other problems this country faces  —  economic inequality, climate change, universal health care  —  all depend on breaking the stronghold that corporations and wealthy elites have on our democratic institutions. We have to keep fighting against the out-sized influence corporations and special interests have on our elections, our elected officials, and our representative democracy.

The U.S. Supreme Court gave Montana a great victory this week, but we are going to keep on fighting. I hope other states will join us in this fight because Americans deserve no less.

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Steve Bullock is serving his second term as governor of Montana.

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