Lawmakers hear multiple bills to change campaign finance laws

Political Practices Program Supervisor Mary Baker answers a question from Rep. Greg Hertz (R-Polson) Tuesday

Political Practices Program Supervisor Mary Baker answers a question from Rep. Greg Hertz (R-Polson) Tuesday

State lawmakers are trying to address the concerns about so-called ‘dark money’ in politics–anonymous money which led to the pervasive and largely negative third-party ads that dominated the 2012 election.

These legislators are coming at the issue from very different angles.

Tuesday morning, the House State Administration Committee heard two bills which would raise the contribution limits for Montana candidates. Representative Steve Fitzpatrick (R-Great Falls) is offering HB265, which essentially doubles the amount that can be given to candidates for statewide or legislative races. Fitzpatrick says he was a victim of attack mailers sent by third party groups, which have new leeway under the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

“We can’t change Citizens United,” Fitzpatrick said. “What we can do is level the playing field between the candidates and the wealthy groups that are able to finance that.”

Representative Scott Reichner’s (R-Big Fork) bill, HB229, bumps up the contributions by more than Fitzpatrick’s bill for statewide candidates, from $500 to $2500 for gubernatorial candidates and from $250 to $1000 for other statewide candidates. Reichner’s bill created the most opposition through removing limits from political parties.

Reichner looked to the most recent gubernatorial race between Democrat Steve Bullock and Republican Rick Hill. He says while each candidates campaign spent about $1 million,  $7 or $8 million was spent on race by outside groups. “You don’t really control the message,” he said. “The message is controlled by the third parties and this is frustrating for a campaign.”

He says he is open to amending his bill. He’s consulting with Governor Steve Bullock’s office, which does not support the bill as written.

Meanwhile, downstairs in the House Judiciary Committee, Representative Ellie Hill introduced her HJ6, which encourages implementation of I-166, an initiative passed by 75 percent of voters last fall. It directs statewide officials to pursue an amendment to the US Constitution stating corporations are not people and should not have the right to contribute to political campaigns. She says her resolution allows the Legislature to officially state the US Supreme Court erred in Citizens United.

“At certain times in our history, we have had an opportunity through our separation of powers to rise above the judicial branch, and that’s certainly what we’re preparing to do with a Constitutional Amendment,” she said.
Supporters of Hill’s resolution believe this is a better way to reign in third party spending, rather than raising limits for candidates to spend more.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s