After enduring one of the most expensive — and vicious — campaigns in Montana history, a handful of state senators and representatives are preparing an attack on dark money. They’re working on a ballot initiative that would let Montana voters decide whether nonprofit groups should disclose at least some of their donors. State politicians have grown increasingly concerned that outside groups have too much influence on their politics, said Sen. Jim Peterson, a Republican who has led the push for the ballot initiative. Peterson had proposed a Senate bill requiring more disclosure earlier this year, but it died in a House committee. “Dark money supporters use these nonprofit organizations, 501(c)4s in particular, to hide behind a curtain of secrecy so they can play in these elections anonymously,” he said. “And voters don’t like it. Candidates don’t like it. I don’t like it.”
Dark money had begun filtering into the state in 2008, but reached new heights in the most recent election cycle, which saw a rush of “repugnant, negative ads,” said state Sen. Llew Jones, a Republican who also backs the ballot initiative.
“They were everywhere,” he said. “They were disenfranchising the voters [and] having incredible impact on the outcomes of these elections.”
Jones said that he decided to support the initiative after watching FRONTLINE’s Big Sky, Big Money, an investigation into campaign finance in their state — and seeing the influx of dark money into Montana.