Senate passes reform proposal to increase campaign-finance disclosures

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HELENA, Montana — Montana senators passed a measure Thursday that would require more disclosure surrounding campaign donations.

Republican Sen. Duane Ankney's Senate Bill 289, which is backed by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, would require corporations, political committees, unions and individuals to report monetary and in-kind contributions that pay for advertisements, communications and other activities for or against political candidates and issues. The proposal also would require that the attribution "paid for by" be included on political ads in the state.

The Senate passed the measure by a vote of 28-22. It will go next to the House for consideration.

"This bill isn't Armageddon," Ankney said. "Basically what it does is it says if you're going to contribute to a campaign, you're going to report."

The measure comes five years after the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision that freed corporations and labor unions to spend as much as they want in elections. Since the ruling, anonymous money has poured into elections, Bullock's chief legal counsel has said.

The measure would also give the governor-appointed commissioner of political practices the discretion to implement other rules "to fully disclose the disposition of funds used to support or oppose candidates or issues." It's the commissioner's job to oversee the enforcement of campaign-finance laws.

But opposing lawmakers said that would give the commissioner too much power. "This gives a lot of leeway for the commissioner to decide on things that should be decided by this body," said Republican Sen. Dee Brown of Hungry Horse.

Ankney, of Colstrip, said the commissioner already has rulemaking discretion and with the wide variety of campaign violations needs to be able to address specific problems that arise in the future.

Sen. Eric Moore also opposed the measure because he said the bill would force donors to make their political beliefs public. "What we're doing in this bill ... you do not have the right to contribute to causes you believe in ... and also keep your right to privacy," the Republican from Miles City said.

Republican Sen. Llew Jones of Conrad countered by saying elections have changed and Montana is being buried under an explosion of campaign communications. "Politics is best done when we can follow the money," he said.

SB 289 is one of four campaign-finance measures backed this session by Ankney and Bullock. Senate Bill 267, which would require corporations and unions to state that they've made contributions, was tabled in committee. House Bill 406 to require compliance with campaign finance laws as a prerequisite of state contracts has also been tabled. House Bill 409 generally revising campaign finance laws related to corporations failed in the House by a vote of 59-41.

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