Governor Steve Bullock’s re-election campaign on Tuesday quickly seized on a judge’s ruling to uphold Montana’s campaign finance disclosure law. Bullock was in Missoula ostensibly to rally with students.
"Hello, University of Montana! Thank you for being here today recognizing the importance of voting and voting early in our elections," Bullock said to the crowd gathered at UM.
But this week’s ruling by a federal judge that upheld the Montana Disclose Act put a different spin on what started as a boilerplate rally designed to get-out-the-youth vote.
"It’s a law that I signed a little less than two years ago with support from Democrats and Republicans," Bullock said. "The Disclose Act is a pretty simple idea, but it’s essential to making sure our elections are fair, transparent and accountable to voters."
It would do that by essentially requiring anonymous groups to report how they’re spending money in state political races.
A Billings-based group called Montanans for Community Development sued to strike down the law. MCD maintained the Disclose Act was too vague and had a chilling effect on free speech, arguments rejected this week by District Judge Dana Christensen.
Bullock, Montana’s Democratic incumbent governor, says there’s a close connection between his Republican challenger, Greg Gianforte, and MCD.
"The woman who filed with Montanans for Community Development to try to strike down our Disclose Act is part of the law firm that represents Greg Gianforte in his campaign. And Mr. Gianforte also was the principal funder of the group that fought against the Disclose Act during the legislative session."
And Bullock says that’s relevant because:
"If you want to know what a guy’s going to do in the future, look at what they’ve done in the past."
When news broke that a U.S. District Court in Montana rejected arguments that the state’s 2015 Disclose Act was unconstitutional, Republican candidate for Governor Greg Gianforte said he supports financial transparency in elections.
"We need transparency in elections," Gianforte said. "I think that we have seen a lot of special interest influence in elections. That’s why I took the pledge to not take any special interest money, and I haven’t done it."
In the early months of the campaign season Gianforte pledged to not accept money from political action committees, or PACs.
Gianforte didn’t say whether or not he supports the Disclose Act.
"I’m not an expert on the legislation," said Gianforte. "I’m not a politician, I’m a business guy. I do know that Steve Bullock spent a year raising money out-of-state, and it got spent here predominantly on negative attack ads that were not truthful.”
Gianforte say’s Montana’s campaign disclosure laws are still a work in progress.
"I think we need to continue to work. I think better is always possible. What the exact right solution is, I’m not sure. But we have to make sure that special interests aren't controlling our election."
Gianforte’s campaign said Bullock made a huge stretch when linking the Republican candidate to groups opposing the Disclose Act, counterattacking that Bullock helped raise dark money while chairman of the Democratic Governors Association.
Gianforte is on the road starting a more than 30 city tour of the state before Election Day.
Gianforte said Tuesday that if he’s elected he will create a whistleblower protection component of his proposed office of government accountability.