A fresh breeze of reform is blowing in from the western plains. On Election Day, Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock was one of just three nonincumbent Democrats to win election as either governor or U.S. senator in states that went red in the presidential race. Bullock was inaugurated two weeks before this month’s third anniversary of Citizens United. He had led a fight to try to keep the U.S. Supreme Court decision in that case from negating Montana’s strict campaign finance law in state elections. Also on Election Day, 75 percent of Montana voters, Democrats and Republicans, approved Initiative 166 calling for a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizens United and the concept of corporate personhood. Montana was joined that day by Colorado as the first two states to pass public referendums, although nine others, including California, have called for an amendment through resolutions by their legislatures.
Montana is exemplary in that it passed comprehensive campaign finance reform, The Corrupt Practices Act, in 1912 in the wake of rampant bribery and corruption by the state’s powerful mining industry. In defending that law, Bullock argued that the Supreme Court’s view that corporate money did not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption did not apply to Montana, where it demonstrably had.
Montana comes about as close to the idea of the citizen public servant. It has austere campaign contribution limits ($630 for governor down to $300 for state legislators) and terms limits from the governor on down. It had tried to apply these laws to U.S. senate and congressional races, but that was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1995.
The system Montanans tried to preserve at the state level contrasts with the obscene level of spending in last November’s U.S. Senate race, in which $51 million, much of it dark money from outside the state, was spent influencing just 480,000 voters. California experienced its own brand of dark money controversy. Massive amounts of outside funding, including an $11 million check from interests in Arizona, flooded the state to influence two ballot initiatives.