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.
And there is no need to do this. Data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics reveals that only 3% of donors in Montana max out. In other words, increasing the limits only benefits those wealthy enough to give these large sums. But the impact on elections could be profound. Consider this: without an aggregate PAC limit, a wealthy individual can funnel unlimited money into a race by setting up multiple PACs and then maxing out through each PAC. Thus, repealing the aggregate PAC limit law opens a huge loophole for unlimited contributions.
Experience tells us that allowing big money in elections invites corruption. When 75% of Montana voters supported I-166, we said NO to big money in our elections and the corruption that it brings. This chart shows how strong the support for I-166 was in each district. Use those numbers to remind your representative that when we voted for I-166, we called on our elected officials to defend our campaign finance laws, not to weaken and demolish them.
It makes absolutely no sense that a bill aimed at addressing dark money would simultaneously open up our elections to more big money.
Legislators are feeling pressure to support SB 375, but as it stands, it is a bad bill. And legislators should not ignore Montanans who have worked hard to make our elections fair. For 100 years, Montanans have consistently voted for strong campaign finance reforms when given the opportunity at the ballot box.
Please contact your representative. Ask them to oppose SB 375, unless it is fixed, and let them know you have their back if they do the right thing and stand with Montanans.