Bullock signs bill to require more campaign finance disclosure in Montana

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Montana Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock signs a bill requiring more disclosure surrounding campaign donations on Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at the Capitol, while Republican lawmakers Rep. Frank Garner, left, and Sen. Duane Ankney look on in Helena, Mont. The new law will require groups that spend money on elections at the state level to disclose their donors, including those that have been previously exempt from the practice. (AP Photo/Lisa Baumann)

HELENA, Montana — The governor signed a measure Wednesday that he says will make Montana elections the most transparent in the nation.

Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock signed Senate Bill 289 into law Wednesday at the Capitol.

"Montana has now added the sunshine and the transparency to our election laws that the rest of the nation can look to, to make sure that elections are decided by the people that vote," Bullock said. "Beginning next election Montanans for state races will be able to accurately judge and understand the political attacks that have become so common in our elections and will have the opportunity to see who's funding those attacks."

Sponsored by Republican Sen. Duane Ankney of Colstrip and backed by Bullock, the Montana Disclose Act will shed some 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's unconstitutional to ban corporations from making political expenditures if the money is not given directly to a candidate.

The new law will require groups that spend money on elections at the state level to disclose their donors, including those that have been previously exempt from the practice. Organizations have been able to skirt laws requiring political contribution disclosure if their purpose and federal tax designation categorizes the group as dedicated to education or advocacy.

"We're saying if you're going to spend money in our elections you need to just simply disclose who's writing those checks," Bullock said.

The bill's passage was never a sure thing. While it sailed through the Senate, the GOP leadership in the House was adamantly opposed. Democrats invoked a special rule to bring it to the House floor for consideration. The measure passed the House on third reading by a narrow 51-48 vote with 10 moderate Republicans joining all 41 Democrats in supporting the bill.

Ankney said Wednesday that fair elections prevailed despite a long fight that started with a similar failed bill last session.

"Why in the world would you not like to have fair elections, Ankney asked the group of supporters. "Why would you not want to run your campaign in a manner that represents your constituents and not individual groups?"

Republicans have called Bullock a hypocrite throughout the bill's progression because he is demanding disclosure while raising undisclosed funds through the Democratic Governors Association.

"Governor Bullock failed to tell Montanans that even with the (Disclose) Act, he will still be able to raise and spend undisclosed, unlimited corporate cash as chair of the Democratic Governors Association," Chris Shipp, executive director of the Montana Republican Party, said in an email to The Associated Press. "Apparently Bullock only believes in transparency as long as he doesn't have to tell Montanans where all his undisclosed, unlimited corporate cash is coming from."

Bullock has said the DGA would not spend any "dark money" as long as he is chairman.

"When it comes to stamping out corruption and restoring integrity to our elections, you're either with Gov. Bullock, Sen. Ankney and Rep. Garner, or you're with the billionaires who funded the opposition to this measure and think our democracy is for sale," Bullock spokesman Dave Parker said.

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