Posted: Mar 26, 2013 7:45 PM by Marnee Banks - MTN News
HELENA - A major piece of legislation, which reforms Montana's campaign finance laws, passed the state Senate on Monday, but not before shedding light on the division in the Republican Party.
We have been talking about the rift during this session in the GOP between moderate Republicans and the far right, who have been voting against each other on several key issues. That dynamic was glaring as lawmakers debated the TRACE Act which reforms the state's campaign finance laws.
"This bill is designed to address dark money," Sen. Jim Peterson (R-Buffalo) said.
Peterson's bill requires dark money groups to either disclose their top 10 donors or create a separate bank account and reveal their financial activity. They say anonymous money corrupts the political process by threatening legislators with dirty campaigns if they vote a certain way.
"There is a real fear that dark money can add pressure to someone doing the right thing, out of fear of retaliation," commented Sen. Ed Buttrey (R-Great Falls).
They say it keeps good people out of politics because they don't want to subject their families to the mudslinging.
"It doesn't hurt me. My skin is thick enough to do it. But when your spouse and children are in tears over the lies that are sent out, I think we are entitled to know who is sending that information out," added Sen. Alan Olson (R-Roundup).
Democrats joined moderate Republicans in supporting the bill, while at the same time citing the division in the GOP.
"Is it worse on your side of the aisle? We all know it is," observed Sen. Jim Keane (D-Butte).
But the leadership of the Montana Senate stood in strong opposition, claiming the bill didn't address the dirty politicking published on blogs.
"If you think we can get rid of vicious, anonymous, untruthful attacks on character with this bill, you are fooling yourselves," stated Sen. Jeff Essmann (R-Billings).
"The mudslinging that none of us like, is the price we pay for the First Amendment. It's the price we pay for freedom of speech," added Sen. Frederick Moore (R-Miles City).
Opponents also say the measure favors Democrats, who historically have successfully organized volunteers to register people to vote and getting them to the polls. They say those types of contributions aren't covered in this bill.
"Vote for this and keep losing elections, because that's what this is," said Sen. Jason Priest (R-Red Lodge).
But at the heart of the debate was the disagreement on whether or not anonymous money has a place in modern-day politics, and for that argument the Montana Senate was divided.