Mining for Influence in Montana
Published: June 3, 2012
IN Montana’s frontier days, we learned a hard lesson about money in politics, one that’s shaped our campaign-finance laws for a century and made our political system one of the country’s most transparent.
Those laws, and our political way of life, are now being threatened by the Supreme Court — which is why I recently signed a petition for a federal constitutional amendment to ban corporate money from all elections.
Montana’s approach to campaign law began when a miner named William A. Clark came upon a massive copper vein near Butte. It was the largest deposit on earth, and overnight he became one of the wealthiest men in the world. He bought up half the state of Montana, and if he needed favors from politicians, he bought those as well.
In 1899 he decided he wanted to become a United States senator. The State Legislature appointed United States senators in those days, so Clark simply gave each corruptible state legislator $10,000 in cash, the equivalent of $250,000 today.
Clark “won” the “election,” but when the Senate learned about the bribes, it kicked him out. “I never bought a man who wasn’t for sale,” Clark complained as he headed back to Montana.
Nevertheless, this type of corruption continued until 1912, when the people of Montana approved a ballot initiative banning corporate money from campaigns (with limited exceptions). We later banned large individual donations, too. Candidates in Montana may not take more than a few hundred dollars from an individual donor per election; a state legislator can’t take more than $160. And everything must be disclosed.
These laws have nurtured a rare, pure form of democracy. There’s very little money in Montana politics. Legislators are basically volunteers: they are ranchers, teachers, carpenters and all else, who put their professions on hold to serve a 90-day session, every odd year, for $80 a day. *(Seriously?)*
And since money can’t be used to gain access, public contact with politicians is expected and rarely denied. A person who wants to visit with a public official, even the governor, can pretty much just walk into the Capitol and say hello. All meetings with officials are open to the public. So are all documents — even my own handwritten notes and e-mails.
All this is in jeopardy, though, thanks to the Supreme Court and its infamous Citizens United ruling. In February the court notified the office of Montana’s commissioner of political practices, which oversees state campaigns, that until further notice, we may no longer enforce our anti-corruption statute, specifically our restriction on corporate money.
*(Governor Schweitzer has accepted money from the largest prison corporation in America. Attorney General Steve Bullock is behind prisons for profit. )
The court, which will make a formal ruling on the law soon, cited in the 2010 Citizens United case that corporations are people, too, and told us that our 110-year effort to prevent corruption in Montana had likely been unconstitutional. Who knew?
The effects of the court’s stay are already being felt here. The ink wasn’t even dry when corporate front groups started funneling lots of corporate cash into our legislative races. Many of the backers have remained anonymous by taking advantage of other loopholes in federal law.
*(Not talking about political parties but since Governor Schweitzer and Attorney General Steve Bullock continue to bring this subject up because they don’t want Republicans to receive money from large corporations. But it is okay for Democrats to receive funding through large corporations and lobbyists through loopholes that are not disclosed. It goes with the saying, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander” either let it go and just admit it or stop it altogether in both parties. Personally, I think it all leads to corruption. Allowing those people to buy your conscience on what is right or wrong just so they can continue to make money. I don’t care what party an official is in.)*
But it’s easy to figure out who they are: every industry that wants to change the laws so that more profit can be made and more citizens can be shortchanged.
*(This has been going on in Montana and so far it looks like both parties have been involved in Prisons For Profit and short-changing the Montana taxpayers.)*
I know this because I’ve started receiving bills on my desk that have been ghostwritten by a host of industries looking to weaken state laws, including gold mining companies that want to overturn a state ban on the use of cyanide to mine gold, and developers who want to build condos right on the edge of our legendary trout streams.
In the absence of strict rules governing campaign money, these big players will eventually get what they seek. I vetoed these bills, but future governors might sign them if they have been bribed by the same type of money that is now corrupting our State Legislature.
This will mean, sadly, that the Washington model of corruption — where corporations legally bribe members of Congress by bankrolling their campaigns with so-called independent expenditures, and get whatever they need in return — will have infected Montana.
*(Corporations and lobbyists have already infected Montana, who is Governor Schweitzer kidding? Officials have been receiving kickbacks and funding, they have found loopholes already.)*
That’s why, in the event we don’t win in the court, I’m also supporting a federal constitutional amendment that would enshrine the right of a state to ban corporate money from political campaigns. I’m hoping the rest of Montana will join me — indeed, the petition will be presented to voters in November.
It’s not much, but it’s a start. If other states get into the act, maybe we can start a prairie fire that will burn all the way to Washington. In the meantime, we will see whether the court decides to blow the stink of Washington into Montana, or whether we can preserve our fresh mountain air.
*( Montana is a beautiful state but the stink of Washington and corruption in Montana has already stunk up the Montana air. Read through all the data, research yourself. This is just another one of those scratch and sniff stickers, smells like the real thing, but it is not. Governor Brian Schweitzer and Attorney General Steve Bullock would like you to believe all this fluff but it’s not the real deal.)*
- http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/c/campaign_finance/index.html If Democrats can’t get the same amount of money in donations as they say the Republicans are, then why does Attorney General Steve Bullock have more in campaigns than his opponent Republican Rick Hill for money? I read Democrats stating this across the board but yet I see big sponsors and celebrities behind them.
Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat, is the governor of Montana.
- No one has answered on how much money they have received from CCA, the Corporation Cash Cow. We know they have been funding politicians, campaigns and that would include those that hold office right at this moment. Read here on how much they fund and how much influence they have had regarding politics and laws.
- Attorney General Steve Bullock and MDOJ and other departments have promoted new ways to make more money. Montana don’t be fooled and hold them accountable. Corruption is already alive and well in Montana and growing even more so at an alarming rate, unless the Montana citizens band together and say “NO” to all of it.