House narrowly endorses bill to require more disclosure surrounding campaign donations



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HELENA, Montana — The House narrowly endorsed a bill Thursday that would require more disclosure surrounding campaign donations.

House members voted 51-49 to endorse Senate Bill 289 after passing one of 16 Republican amendments offered in two hours of debate. Ten Republicans joined all 41 Democrats to support the measure sponsored by Sen. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip, and backed by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock.

Republican Rep. Frank Garner of Kalispell said during a caucus meeting beforehand that he would be going against Republican leadership and the majority of the caucus to argue for the measure.

During the floor session, he held up a newspaper cartoon that showed a hand holding puppet strings attached to lawmakers and said Montanans want to know who is behind the hand. "It's up to us to answer the call of Montanans and make sure they know we've heard their pleas," Garner said.

Senate Bill 289 aims to shed light on anonymous money that began flowing into elections after the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The court held that it is unconstitutional to prohibit corporations from making political expenditures if the money is not given directly to a candidate.

The measure would require newly defined groups to publicize reports on political donations and expenditures if they spend money supporting or opposing candidates or ballot issues.

Rep. Rob Cook, R-Conrad, was the only one to offer a successful set of amendments, which ranged from reining in ads that look like newspapers to allowing candidates to refrain from disclosing in-kind personal service contributions provided by a political party.

Rep. Greg Hertz, R-Polson, tried adding 10 amendments and questioned whether the governor's signature would only come if the bill came without amendments. Others said blasting the measure to the floor was not an ideal process under which to pass a major bill.

"I keep hearing we had the process. This is not the normal process. The committee defaulted on their responsibility and chucked it back to House," said Rep. Don Jones, R-Billings.

Republican Rep. Wendy McKamey of Great Falls said the bill is one of the most important of the session but that she'd be voting against it. "I am for sunshine. I am convinced this bill does not go far enough in illumination," she said.

Republicans also criticized Bullock for bringing the bill while he raises "dark money" as the current chair of the Democratic Governors Association, a national organization working to get more Democratic governors elected. Bullock has said the DGA won't spend any dark money to influence elections while he's chair.

After the vote, Bullock said in an email to the Associated Press: "Montanans should be able to accurately judge and understand the political attacks that have become so common in our elections, and they should have the opportunity to see who is funding the attacks. I'm pleased to see bipartisan majorities in both houses of the Montana Legislature agree with me."

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