Disclosure Advances in Montana

Bullock's Order Requires State Contractors to Reveal Their Political Spending

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock is looking to keep his state in the forefront of the fight for full disclosure of political spending with an executive order issued last week.

The order requires recipients of major contracts with the state to disclose all their spending on elections – including funds funneled through non-profit groups that some individuals and firms now use to hide their political activity.

Under the order, new government contractors receiving $50,000 for goods or $25,000 for services must disclose any election-related spending in the past two years exceeding $2,500. The requirement will take effect Oct. 1 and is expected to apply to 500-600 new Montana government contracts each year.

A longstanding advocate of campaign finance reform and government transparency, Bullock has repeatedly denounced the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United, which deregulated campaign finance by allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts in elections. In the wake of the decision, hundreds of non-profit “social welfare” groups have sprung up to serve as conduits for corporate and other political donors who wish to remain anonymous.

Bullock’s order echoes provisions of the DISCLOSE Act, a bipartisan effort to require such “dark money” recipients to disclose donors, that the governor signed into Montana law in 2015.

In a signing ceremony at the state capitol, Bullock emphasized the necessity to reform campaign finance laws and improve government transparency. “We have to keep fighting against the outsized influence corporations and special interests have on our elections, our elected officials, and our representative democracy,” he said.

Campaign finance reform is essential to uphold an open and fair government that represents the people, not just big donors. Without transparent government, dark money donors have a free hand to influence political leaders with large contributions, making individual citizens feel marginalized from their governments and leading them to disengage from civic participation.

Bullock’s executive order suggests a solution to the threat of Citizens United: state governments can and should take initiative to remedy financial corruption.

“I’m going to keep fighting here in Montana, and I hope other states will join me, because their citizens deserve no less,” he said.

If Congress won’t act to reverse Citizens United, the responsibility falls to the states. Full disclosure of political money is essential to uphold a transparent government that serves the people.

Kaitlyn Bryan is a Common Cause intern.