TRACE Act Does More Harm Than Good

We have learned that there is an effort developing to “blast” SB 375 (the TRACE Act) onto the House floor. We are very concerned about this and are calling for Montanans to contact their representatives and ask them to oppose the blast motion on SB 375.

A “blast motion,” whereby a bill is taken from a committee without a committee vote and placed on the House floor agenda, requires a three-fifths majority (60 out of 100 votes).  Hence, this is the best chance we have at stopping this flawed bill.

This is a difficult situation. We would prefer to be supporting this bill aimed at addressing dark money, but as it is written, SB 375 does more harm than good. Specifically, the provisions in SB 375 that dramatically increase contribution limits (for individuals, PACs and parties) and repeal our aggregate PAC limit must be removed before the bill moves forward.  We don’t need more big money in our elections.

There is also talk about amending it on the floor, but we have no assurance that amendments will be successful and we are not convinced that the amendments will even fix the serious problems with SB 375.

We have delivered this message to both the Senate and House Judiciary committees, and reached out to both the governor and Sen. Peterson asking for amendments to keep our current contribution limits and PAC limit law. Unfortunately, the bill has not been fixed.

The little bit of good that SB 375 does, requiring reporting by dark money groups, is overshadowed by what it does to allow rich individuals and special interests to buy elections.

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Senate Bill 375 Must Be Fixed

Preventing the Corrupting Influence of Big Money in Our Elections

We agree that elections should be about candidates, ideas, and voters. And we agree that the amount and sources of money funding elections should be visible to all, not hidden or “dark” without disclosure or identification. Many 2012 Montana elections were rife with that dark money use and many regard those elections as unfair.

There is one legislative effort that has a chance to fix dark money but, unfortunately, it is also causing significant collateral damage to good parts of Montana’s existing campaign laws. We write today to publically ask Gov. Steve Bullock and Sen. Jim Peterson to fix Senate Bill 375, the so-called “TRACE Act,” as it now moves from the Senate to the House for consideration. 

Senate Bill 375 addresses the serious problem of dark money. We agree with that portion of the bill.   Senate Bill 375 also has provisions that increase current funding limits on contributions to candidate campaigns (thereby overriding previous voter-passed initiatives). We oppose these parts of SB 375 because they would lead to less disclosure and even more big money in our elections from special interests and the wealthy. Those provisions buck 100 years of voter intent on campaign finance and are inconsistent with the recently approved Initiative 166. 

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The Attack on Fair Elections

Big Money.

Montana is now officially ground zero in the organized attack being waged on clean, fair elections. Yesterday’s decision by U.S. District Judge Lovell throwing out Montana’s 20-year-old contribution limits caps off what has been an ugly year for Montana election laws.

Throughout 2012, American Tradition Partnership – a shadowy, secretive Washington, D.C.-based group notorious for its attacks ads and campaign finance violations – has used the courts to gut Montana’s campaign finance laws. ATP’s victories come at the expense of Montana voters and of our “tradition” of fair, competitive elections.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court summarily reversed the Montana Supreme Court’s decision on American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock and ended 100 years of Montana policy prohibiting corporate money in Montana elections. Yesterday, ATP dealt another blow to democracy in Montana, with a court decision that eliminates our state’s contribution limits.

Both the Montana Corrupt Practices Act and Montana’s contribution limits were made law by Montana voters who approved the measures as ballot initiatives. ATP is not only rolling back our election laws, laws that have served Montana well and allowed for clean and fair elections, but it is also working to undermine the will of Montana voters.

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Where Do Your Candidates Stand

Yesterday we asked Montana’s sitting elected officials and candidates to take a stand with Montana citizens.

We asked them two simple questions: (1) Will you vote in favor of I-166, and (2) Will you follow the instructions from voters if I-166 passes this November?

Thomas Jefferson once said that “an informed citizenry is the only true repository of the public will.” That’s why we’ve asked all Montana federal and statewide candidates (except judges) where they stand on I-166.

How will your elected representatives and candidates respond?

Where do they stand on corporate influence and Big Money in our elections?

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Will I-166 Opponents Come Out of the Shadows?

Opponents would like to keep the debate over I-166 in the courtroom, but Montana voters deserve better. In Montana, our politics are face-to-face, person-to-person, and the issue of corporate money in elections warrants a vigorous public debate.

That's why I sent a letter on Wednesday challenging our opponents to a series of debates.

The letter went to:

  • Lorna Kuney (treasurer for Montanans Opposed to I-166)
  • Chris Gallus (attorney for Montanans Opposed to I-166)
  • James Brown (attorney for Montanans Opposed to I-166 and American Tradition Partnership)
  • Donny Ferguson (executive director, American Tradition Partnership)
  • Sen. Dave Lewis (plaintiff in the Montana Supreme Court challenge to I-166)
  • Phil Lilleberg (plaintiff in the Montana Supreme Court challenge to I-166). 

We are waiting on their response.

Read the letter for yourself...


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"When Pigs Fly" - Some Politicians Don't Get It.

Clearly, some politicians don’t get it. 

We want our elections back and we are not going sit back and let some politicians, who don’t support fair elections and are comfortable with a corrupt election system, stand in our way.

That is why we need your help.

I want to share with you a letter to the editor that appeared in today’s Helena Independent Record, and ask you to help with a response. The letter is from Sen. Dave Lewis, who is party to the lawsuit that would deny Montanans a chance to vote on I-166.

Basically, Sen. Lewis says our effort to get corporate money out of our elections and restore government of, by, and for the people “will be approved when pigs fly.” You can read his full letter below. But, frankly, I think his letter insults the work that we have done together to get I-166 to this point.

What if those who opposed slavery did not fight for a constitutional amendment? And would Sen. Lewis have said the same thing to those who advocated for the 18-year-old vote, and even women’s right to vote?

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Stand with Montana in fight against corporate personhood

Guest column by Verner Bertelsen, C.B. Pearson, and Becky Douglas
Column ran in the Missoulian on March 16, 2012 and in the Helena Independent Record on March 18, 2012

It’s time for Montanans to stand up for themselves.

More and more, our individual voices are getting drowned out by big money in politics. The recent Citizens United v. FEC decision by the U.S. Supreme Court has made the situation intolerable.

That’s why on Feb. 28, we filed a citizens’ initiative that we hope will appear on the 2012 ballot.

This initiative states clearly that corporations are not people. Corporations do not breathe, they do not have children, they do not die fighting in wars for our country, and they do not vote in elections.

We hope that you’ll stand with Montanans in this fight. This is one of the greatest challenges in our lifetime and we Montanans are in a critical position in this historic debate.

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Montanans lead the fight to end corporate control of our elections.

A recent New York Times editorial, “Undermining State Campaign Laws,” was spot on in identifying what is at stake in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision and the subsequent challenge to Montana’s century-old Corrupt Practices Act of 1912.

The column concludes with this: “At stake is whether state elections will be decided by corporations that are allowed to spend unlimited amounts to influence the results.”

I couldn’t have said it better.

The discussion over corporate personhood, defining money as speech, and granting political speech rights to corporations can easily go into an esoteric realm only truly understood by lawyers and policy wonks. But the question at hand is fairly simple: should corporations be allowed to use their immense wealth and their corporate checkbook to influence our elections?

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