Gov. Steve Bullock signed into law Wednesday a major bill to tighten Montana’s campaign finance laws to require anonymous so-called “dark money” groups to report how they are spending money in state political races. The Democratic governor signed the bill flanked by two Republicans, Sen. Duane Ankney of Colstrip, who sponsored the bill, and Rep. Frank Garner of Kalispell, who led the debate in the House. Later, a number of legislators who supported the bill and others who worked on it stood behind the governor and two lawmakers for another bill signing. “When it comes to Montanans as individuals having control of our elections, this is the most significant day in the last 112 years since Montanans passed the Corrupt Practices Act,” Bullock told a large crowd in the Governor’s Reception Room.
A referendum on the November ballot could repeal Election Day voter registration, but voters haven’t seen one television ad, mailer or person mobilize in favor of the measure. The only noise is coming from a group against the measure and they’ve thrown money and manpower at urging people to vote no. If the legislative referendum appearing on the ballot as LR-126 passes, people could not register to vote on Election Day in future elections. The voter registration deadline would move to 5 p.m. on the Friday before Election Day. “All Montanans should have their voices heard in democracy and LR-126 is one of those efforts to take away that voice,” said Kate Stallbaumer, deputy campaign manager with Montanans for Free and Fair Elections. “We’re focused on protecting and safeguarding the constitutional right to vote.”
Montana voters will lie to rest a divisive issue this November when they fill out their General Election ballot – whether to continue allowing new voters to register on Election Day, as the state has allowed since 2006. The legislative referendum will appear on the ballot after heated legal debate. In February, the state Supreme Court ruled the issue could proceed when it denied a petition by voting-rights groups attempting to occlude the referendum from the ballot. The Republican-controlled Legislature passed the referendum in 2013, placing it on the 2014 ballot, though it was rewritten after opponents argued that language in the referendum’s ballot initiative was misleading. The language asserted that ending same-day registration was necessary to comply with federal law. If the referendum passes and same-day registration is rescinded, voter registration would end at 5 p.m. on the Friday before Election Day.
AARP has joined those fighting a Montana ballot measure that would end the practice of allowing voters to register on Election Day. The non-profit advocacy group for older Americans claims 37 million members nationwide. Its national board president was in Billings yesterday to advocate for easier voting access. Jeannine English doesn’t mince words when speaking against Legislative Referendum 126. “It’s a form of voter suppression.” She calls this ballot measure an out-of-state-crafted solution looking for a problem. English is from Sacramento, CA. She has expertise in election issues, including: campaign finance reform and government integrity. Earlier this year she was named the national president of AARP. She says it’s important for older Americans to be involved in the Democratic process. She’s worried measures like LR-126 would limit the number of people who can vote.
The day before the election marks the end of late voter registration, giving election officials a brief break before same day registration and voting begins early Tuesday. However, a referendum on the ballot this November could push late registration back. Legislative referendum 126 would end late voter registration on the Friday before election day and eliminate election-day registration all together. We spoke to Gallatin County Clerk and Recorder Charlotte Mills on how the move might impact her office.
Montana: Attorney submits initiative to fill Senate vacancies by special election | Associated Press
A Helena attorney submitted a ballot initiative proposal Tuesday that would change Montana law to remove the power of filling U.S. Senate vacancies from the governor and instead require special elections. The process was in the spotlight last month when Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock named his lieutenant governor, John Walsh, to replace longtime U.S. Sen. Max Baucus. Republican legislative leaders criticized Bullock’s selection, saying it was done in secrecy and with no input from the public. The proposal by attorney James Brown calls for holding a special primary election within 60 days of the governor being notified of a Senate vacancy. The primary would be followed by a special general election between 50 and 85 days later. The winner would serve until the next regular general election.
A federal judge ruled Tuesday that Montana’s requirement that political committees disclose their campaign spending is constitutional. U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen sided with the state in a new decision, and dismissed a case brought last year by the National Association for Gun Rights. He wrote that the public’s right to know who is financing political campaigns vastly outweighs the minimal burden imposed on committees required to report the information. The Virginia nonprofit organization originally argued it wanted to send political mailings on gun issues without registering as a political committee. The organization said it advances the “God-given right” to keep and bear arms.
Come 2014, it’s up to voters to decide the fate of Montana’s primary election system and late voter registration date. The Montana House and Senate cleared two referendums last week that could change the state’s voting laws. The measures passed largely along party lines, with Republicans voting in favor. Senate bills 408 and 405 are the same proposals that led Senate Democrats to pound on their desks and shout at the Republican Senate president earlier this month as they sought to halt legislation’s passage. The first of those measures, SB 408, would establish a “top-two” primary in Montana elections. Under such a system, voters would not have to choose which party’s primary ballot to fill out; rather, they would receive a single ballot and could vote for candidates from any party. The two people receiving the most votes — regardless of party affiliation — would advance to the general election. … If enacted, Montana would become the second state behind Washington to hold top-two primaries.
After lengthy debates, the House on Tuesday endorsed two proposed referendums dealing with elections. By a 60-40 vote, the House approved Senate Bill 405 by Sen. Alan Olson, R-Roundup, to change a 2005 state law and end voter registration at 5 p.m. on the Friday before Election Day. People no longer would be able to register to vote on Election Day and then cast their votes same day as has been the case since the 2005 law passed.
For several months, Montana counties have been shelling out taxpayer dollars to fight a Native voting-rights lawsuit – Wandering Medicine v. McCulloch – and William Main wants to know why. A taxpayer himself and former chairman of Fort Belknap Indian Community, he thinks other Montanans will also want to learn how come they’re fighting a suit that may end up costing hundreds of thousands, or even a million dollars. To that end, Main has submitted advertisements to local newspapers in Blaine County, Rosebud and Big Horn counties. The three jurisdictions ended up in court after they refused prior to the 2012 election to set up one satellite early-voting station each on the Fort Belknap, Northern Cheyenne and Crow reservations, respectively. Main has also demanded related financial records from local Blaine County. “There was no public hearing on whether this legal battle was advisable,” said Main, who listed the numerous taxes he pays—including property, income, gas, tobacco and more. He called the counties’ decision to fight the lawsuit “damn foolish,” especially since the cost of the voting stations was minimal. In Blaine County, he said, Fort Belknap offered space in a newly renovated, internet-ready courthouse, and a voting-rights group, Four Directions, agreed to pay other costs.
Montana state Democratic Senator Sharon Peregoy appears to have been ejected from the Senate’s ethics committee—for pounding on her desk during a rowdy protest of all Democratic senators in that legislative body on Friday, April 5, said Peregoy, who is Crow. The Democrats, who are in the minority, had attempted to block majority Republicans from passing two bills seeking to restrict voting rights, according to Peregoy. When the Senate’s Republican president Jeff Essman ignored a Democratic motion, the minority members stood, shouted and banged on their desks for 15 minutes, as observers in the 2nd-floor gallery surrounding the chamber stamped, screamed and whistled. With Essman bellowing over the ruckus, Republicans passed the measures and sent them to the House. “The voting measures were among numerous anti-Indian bills the Senate has taken up,” Peregoy said. “I’ve never seen so many in one session—including water compacts, the size and range of bison herds and more.” Peregoy is one of three Native members of the 50-member Montana senate; the 100-member house has an additional five Natives.
Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, and a Republican state senator joined forces Thursday behind a bill they said will force backers of anonymous political attacks in Montana to disclose their donors. “It is one thing to lie and distort the records of positions of those seeking office,” Bullock said at a Capitol news conference. “It takes it to a whole different level when those trying to corrupt our elections aren’t even courageous enough to stand behind their statements by disclosing who is writing the check.” Bullock said he is supporting a bill sponsored by Sen. Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, that, among other things, will require groups funding such attacks to report their donors.
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.
Five months after the Supreme Court threw out Montana’s 1912 campaign finance law, the state voted overwhelmingly to throw out the justices’ reasoning. Montana’s Initiative 166, which passed with 75% of the vote, disputes the high court’s constitutional analysis and directs the state’s congressional delegation to propose a constitutional amendment overturning the court’s 2010 Citizens United campaign finance ruling. What’s more, the state elected as governor Democrat Steve Bullock, who championed the state’s campaign-finance restrictions in his previous job as state attorney general.
On October 10, members of three Montana tribes—Northern Cheyenne, Crow and Gros Ventre and Assiniboine—filed a voting-rights lawsuit in federal court in Billings. One defendant is Montana’s head election official, Secretary of State Linda McCulloch. The other 13 are commissioners and election officers of Rosebud, Big Horn and Blaine counties, which overlap the three tribes’ reservations, respectively, and handle their non-tribal elections. The tribal members are suing because the officials do not plan to provide the three reservations with satellite offices for early voting, which got underway in Montana on October 9 and runs through election day. The 16 plaintiffs say this violates rights protected by the United States and Montana constitutions and the Voting Rights Act (VRA). All three counties named have lost or settled VRA suits. Today’s failure to provide satellite early voting reinforces a “history of official racial discrimination in voting,” the suit said.
A federal judge Wednesday struck down Montana’s dollar limits on campaign contributions to state candidates, dealing another blow to long-standing state laws that attempt to limit money in politics. U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell of Helena, in a brief order, said the nearly 20-year-old limits violate free speech rights under the First Amendment of the Constitution, because they prevent candidates “from amassing the resources necessary for effective campaign advocacy.” Lovell permanently blocked the state from enforcing its contribution limits, apparently opening the door for individuals, political parties and political action committees to give virtually unlimited amounts of money to candidates running for Montana office this election season. However, state Attorney General Steve Bullock – who’s also running for governor this year – said his office will ask for an emergency stay of Lovell’s ruling while it appeals the order to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Supreme Court could give Citizens United a second look this month as it decides whether to take up a lawsuit against the state of Montana, which wants its century-old state law restricting corporate influence in elections to stay in place. Montana is the only state so far to assert its existing corporate-money ban should still stand after the court ruled in 2010 that corporations could spend unlimited amounts on election ads via independent groups. The Montana Supreme Court upheld the 1912 Corrupt Practices Act, but the Supreme Court ordered that the law not be enforced while it reviewed a challenge by the conservative group American Tradition Partnership. The court is widely expected to strike the law down in keeping with its previous decision. Still, advocates view the case as their best chance yet to force the justices to re-examine elements of their landmark 2010 opinion that they say have already proven flawed in light of the subsequent deluge of campaign spending. Twenty-two states and Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) have signed on with Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock (D) in support of their claim.
The Affordable Care Act isn’t the only consequential law whose fate the U.S. Supreme Court holds in its hands. Before the end of the month, the Court is also expected to decide whether to hear a Montana campaign-finance case that may alter the landmark Citizens United ruling. The Montana case, American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock, arose from a challenge to the state’s campaign-finance law. In 1912, when Montana’s “copper kings” routinely drew on their immense wealth to buy off local politicians, the state’s citizens approved a ballot initiative called the Corrupt Practices Act, which banned corporate money in state campaigns and imposed strict limits on individual donations. Today, state legislators can take no more than $160 from individual donors; candidates for governor can take about $1,000. The winner of a Montana Senate race spends an average of $17,000—compare that to the more than $125 million that’s been spent in Wisconsin on a series of recall elections since last winter. Montana’s insistence on transparency and the barriers it built to contain corporate spending have “nurtured a rare, pure form of democracy,” wrote Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer.
Editorials: Montana AG Refuses to Raise Potential Winning Argument in Citizens United Case | 11th Amendment
Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock is failing to “do all he can” — as he has publicly claimed — to win Montana’s U.S. Supreme Court battle against Citizens United. He has refused to put forth a possible winning argument in the case and he won’t explain why. According to a report published on Saturday by Russell Mokhiber in the well-established Washington, D.C. newsletter, Corporate Crime Reporter, AG Bullock’s office told a lawyer who filed an amicus brief in support of Montana that the attorney general is refusing to assert Montana’s sovereign immunity from suit, paradoxically, out of fear that the immunity argument could actually win the case. The case is American Tradition Partnership (ATP) v. Bullock which challenges the validity of the controversial Citizens United case as it applies to state elections and is now awaiting the Court’s decision whether to reconsider its 2010 ruling that struck down federal prohibitions of corporate electioneering.
Attorney General Steve Bullock has urged the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold Montana’s century-old ban on corporate spending in political races and reject an attempt to dismantle it. In a brief filed Friday for the state, Bullock and two associates asked the court to deny the attempt by American Tradition Partnership and others to review and overturn the Montana Supreme Court’s decision in December that upheld the state Corrupt Practices Act. “No precedent of this court supports summary invalidation of a long-established state law so critical to its republican form of government,” wrote Bullock and attorneys Anthony Johnstone and James Molloy for the state.