On Election Day, Montana voters strongly endorsed I-166, the Prohibition on Corporate Contributions and Expenditures in Montana Elections Act, giving the citizen initiative a vote of 75 percent. Montanans of all stripes — independents, Libertarians, Republicans and Democrats — want fair elections, free of the corrupting influence of big money and campaign money from corporations.
Unfortunately, the 2012 election was marked by unprecedented amounts of big money and secret money. Montanans, and our country, need to stand together to address the problem of corporate money in our elections. We Montanans have a special role to play in this ongoing struggle to preserve our government of, by and for the people.
With this vote, Montanans are providing much-needed leadership on this important issue, much as we did 100 years ago with the passage of the Corrupt Practices Act. A century ago, Montana experienced firsthand the effects of abusive, corrupt corporations seizing control of our state. Now we face a potential new era of corruption. That is why passing and implementing I-166 is so important.
Fair elections are not a partisan issue, as proven by the overwhelming support from voters. From the start, I-166 received bipartisan support from prominent Montana political figures. Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D), Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger (R), and former Secretary of State Verner Bertelsen (R) were the first to sign the petition to place I-166 on the ballot, and they also came together to author the argument for I-166 in the official Voter Information Pamphlet.
Commenting on the passage of I-166, Gov. Brian Schweitzer said, “We need to get the dirty, secret, corporate, foreign money out of our elections. Just as we did over 100 years ago, Montanans stood up and took the first step, sending a clear message to the nation that corporations are not people and money does not equal speech. Now it's up to Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to get the dirty, secret, corporate, foreign money out of our elections for good."
With passage of this initiative, Montanans are calling on every elected official to be a leader for Montana, to fight for fair elections and to overturn the misguided Citizens United decision by supporting a constitutional amendment that clearly says “Corporations Aren’t People and Money is not Speech.”
We Montanans expect strong leadership from all of our current and future U.S. senators and representatives to lead the charge for such a constitutional amendment in Congress.
We expect the same from all current and future governors, attorneys general and the Montana Legislature. As stated in I-166, we want our elected officials to fight for and establish a fair elections system that remains free of the corrupting influence of big money.
This means defending our small money contribution limits and putting in place other contribution limits. It means increasing the current reporting requirements and modernizing our access to these reports. It also means keeping a strong “cop” on the beat by strengthening the role of the commissioner of political practices and fully funding that office’s operations.
As we address the problem of secret, dark money in our elections, we need to examine in particular the activity of American Tradition Partnership in past elections and in this most recent election, as well as its assault on all of Montana’s campaign finance and disclosure laws.
With this historic vote, Montana became one of the first two states where voters have gone on record calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizen United decision. The voters have spoken. Now is the time for our elected leaders to get to work preserving our strong laws and strengthening others.
(C.B. Pearson is the treasurer for the ballot committee that supported I-166 and is a long-time political reform advocate in Montana, having worked on the issue of money and politics for the last 30 years including previous ballot issues.)