Montana is a state of trailblazers. We have led the rest of the nation on countless critical issues — from being the first state to elect a woman to Congress, to being one of just a handful of states that continue to reject a regressive statewide sales tax.
There is no better example of this trailblazing tradition than Montana’s stand to protect the integrity of our democracy by reining in the overwhelming influence of money in politics. Montanans have always fought against the influence of wealthy outsiders who are hell-bent on chipping away at our personal rights. When Copper King William Clark attempted to buy a Senate seat over a century ago, the people of Montana gave Clark the boot and passed a historic anti-corruption bill.
One hundred years later, we continue to see Montanans uphold our tradition of fighting back against outside money in our elections. During the 2015 legislative session, I was proud to be a leader in the effort to successfully pass the Disclose Act, a bill that requires anonymous, dark money groups to report who’s giving them money and how they are spending it in state political races. Its passage was a critical step forward for transparency in our elections.
Unfortunately, some of Montana’s elected representatives have chosen to ignore the will of Montanans who have made it clear how fed up they are with dark money controlling their televisions, radios and computers. One of them is reaching for the next rung on the political ladder: East Coast developer Matt Rosendale, who is campaigning to be Montana’s next United States Senator.
In addition to voting against the Disclose Act, Rosendale also voted against the bipartisan TRACE Act (Transparency, Reporting and Accountability in Campaigns and Elections Act), which would have increased transparency in election spending and required dark money groups to disclose their donors.
Rosendale’s record on campaign finance reform can be summed up in one word: abysmal.
Rosendale’s record of fighting to let special interest dark money groups keep pumping cash into Montana elections earned him an endorsement from Citizens United this election cycle. The group that literally brought unlimited money into politics has backed Rosendale for his belief that elections should be bought by the highest bidder.
It’s not just dark money — outside special interests also have Rosendale’s back and he has theirs — just follow the money. Wealthy interest groups like Mitch McConnell’s super PAC, out-of-state billionaires like Richard Uihlein and Koch brothers-backed groups have been overwhelming our airwaves with baseless negative ads on Rosendale’s behalf.
Another group — the Senate Reform Fund — spent more than $1 million on behalf of Rosendale, but thanks to a campaign finance loophole, Montanans still don’t know who the money is coming from. Hiding campaign cash so we cannot know who’s funding his campaign just isn’t who we are as Montanans. As a Republican colleague in the legislature once told me “When somebody’s hiding in the shadows and gut-shoots you, you have a right to know who’s taking a shot at you.”
Outside interest groups aside, Rosendale’s personal relationship with campaign finance ethics is flimsy at best. Over the years, Rosendale and his campaigns have exploited a shady campaign finance loophole to permit his wealthy donors to donate more than the legal allowable contribution limit. Rosendale is also facing a FEC complaint for potential illegal coordination with a dark money group.
Rosendale was even caught dishing out favors to his top campaign donors. Mere days after being sworn in as state auditor, Rosendale met with top donors who represented a company that was facing fines and charges from the previous state auditor. Later that year, Rosendale dropped those fines and dismissed long-standing charges against the company.
Montanans know that getting money out of politics isn’t a partisan issue. Folks from all corners of the state agree that outsiders with deep pockets shouldn’t be able to usurp the will of the voters and buy a politician or an election.
Rosendale needs to understand that making our elections free, fair and accessible is a Montana value — and protecting the right of deep-pocketed corporations to dump money into our elections isn’t. For all the cash out-of-state groups might have, there’s one thing they can’t do: vote.
Montana should speak loudly on Nov. 6 and reject more dark money in our campaign finance system by voting against Matt Rosendale.
Rep. Bryce Bennett represents HD91 in Missoula.