They sound about as exciting as buying tube socks, but proposed administrative rules will help put Montanans back in control of state elections after being overruled by the U.S. Supreme Court, state officials believe. The rules, written by Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl and currently open for public comment, are meant to strengthen campaign disclosure requirements after the high court threw out Montana’s Corrupt Practices Act, a 1912 law that banned corporate political spending. The justices said such spending is a constitutionally protected form of speech. After the ruling, “social welfare” corporations — known by their IRS tax-exempt status 501©4, which don’t disclose their donors — began to hammer Montana candidates using “issue ads.”
Unfettered by contribution limits, the nonprofits would buy negative campaign ads in the mail or on TV and radio stations, usually in the week before the election. The ads mostly targeted Democrats and moderate Republicans who refused to sign ideological pledges. Sen. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip, described the experience as getting “bushwhacked.”
Those political ambushes motivated the Republicans who survived them to ally with Democratic lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 289 — the Disclose Act — during the 2015 session.
That law gave the commissioner rule-making authority, and before his rules can become law, the public can comment, a process that started Aug. 13 and includes public meetings in Helena on Sept. 2 and Sept. 3.