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Standing up for transparent elections by overturning Citizens United

A century ago this year, the people of Montana stood up against some of the most influential corporations in history with a powerful message: People and their ideas — not corporations and their money — decide our elections.

Sen. Jon Tester

At the turn of the century, wealthy mining magnates literally bought elections, power and influence in Washington, D.C. So in 1912, Montana voters passed an initiative limiting corporate influence on our elections.

That's because ensuring that citizens are in control of America's democracy is a Montana value. But that value has come under attack in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Supreme Court made an unpopular decision in 2010 called Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission. The decision means corporations can spend unlimited money on political campaigns. They can make unlimited, anonymous contributions to third-party organizations that attack political candidates — with no transparency or accountability.

Bottom line: The Citizens United decision undermines Montana's values and America's democracy by allowing big — even foreign — corporations to secretly buy American political elections.

In Montana, the decision has already opened a floodgate of attack ads, funded by secretive organizations like Crossroads GPS. Nobody knows exactly where Crossroads gets its millions, but you can bet much of it comes from Wall Street and Big Oil.

Crossroads recently ran an ad attacking me that was so false, a Montana cable company pulled it off the air.

So what can we do about this attack on our democracy and the transparency all Montanans deserve? The first step begins in Congress, where efforts are under way to undo the Citizens United decision.

That's why I support passing a constitutional amendment to restore accountability and transparency to federal and state elections — ensuring that when you see a political ad on TV, you know exactly who's responsible for it.

Americans have every right to support the candidates they believe in with the means they have. But that doesn't give free rein to big and foreign corporations to secretly buy America's elections.

We've seen that before in Montana's history, and it led to a swift rebuke that has withstood the test of time.

Earlier this month, the Montana Supreme Court upheld Montana's 1912 law. The Montana Supreme Court's decision was the nation's first rebuff of the Citizens' United decision, and it was the responsible thing to do.

Now we have a responsibility to continue our fight for the voices of real people in our democracy — just as our ancestors did in Montana a century ago. Through legislation and grassroots efforts, we can and we must push back against the special interests who very much want to buy power and influence in Washington. Unless we do, they'll get their way.

I hope you'll join me in telling them: Not in Montana. Not in America.

(Sen. Tester, D-Mont., is a third-generaton farmer from Big Sandy.)


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