For more than a century Montana has been on the leading edge of transparency in political campaign finance. Sick of the copper industry’s stranglehold on state politics, voters passed campaign spending limits in 1912. And that put the state in the crosshairs of outside interests who wanted to buy Montana elections.

So it is even today.

Gov. Steve Bullock issued an executive order last year mandating all companies who receive large contracts with the state to report all contributions to political campaigns exceeding $2,500. Now an conservative out-of-state group, the Illinois Opportunity Project, is challenging that order in federal court.

The group contents the order violates free speech and privacy rights and could subject the companies to boycotts and other forms harassment. But those arguments beg the question: Why does free speech have to be anonymous speech? If those who contribute heavily to political campaigns have the courage of their convictions, they should be transparent about their intentions to influence our elections. But even more importantly, voters have a fundamental right to know who is shoveling money into the state’s political campaigns.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling essential took the teeth out of most campaign finance reporting laws. It allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money anonymously advocating for or against political candidates and causes. Since then, Montana has seen a marked increase in largely negative political advertising. Next year’s U.S. House and Senate elections promise to bring much more of the same.

Montana has continued to lead the way to reform by introducing more accountability to campaign finance – and with some success in fending off legal challenges. Campaign finance laws are at the core of the integrity of our democracy. And this isn’t a liberal or conservative issue. Voters of all ideological stripes should want to know who’s paying for political advertising – whether it’s labor unions, corporations or highly political nonprofit organizations masquerading as so-called social-welfare groups.

All state officials are encouraged to vigorously defend this latest executive order. Montana campaign law has made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in the past. And perhaps it will again – and undo some of the damage done by the Citizens United ruling in the process.

Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Nick Ehli, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Don Beeman, community member
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Sarabeth Rees, community member
  • David Swingle, community member

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