By: Tiffany Muller
Unashamed by his transactional approach to politics, the 20th century Montana Copper King William Andrew Clark once brashly remarked, “I never bought a man who wasn’t for sale.”
But generations of Montanans and US Senator Jon Tester have had something to say about Clark and the idea of buying off politicians.
After the undemocratic antics deployed by Clark, who dominated the copper mining industry in Butte and was one of the wealthiest people in the world, Montanans were unsurprisingly outraged. In 1912, they passed the Corrupt Practices Act to limit wealthy individuals, like William Clark, from using their immense wealth to exercise control over Montana politics.
A century later, U.S. Senator Jon Tester is carrying on Montana’s proud tradition of supporting good government and fair elections, and reviving Montana’s commitment to keeping Big Money out of our elections.
His leadership is needed more than ever. Since the US Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, the dam to unlimited and undisclosed spending has burst. In the 2016 election cycle alone, outside spending reached a record-setting $1.5 billion – most of which came from Super PACs and dark money groups (which don’t report their donors to the public).
Citizens United established a legal basis for treating corporations as people and has given every opportunity to billionaires and special interests to bankroll politicians, shutting everyday Americans out of the process. There’s no accountability. No transparency. Instead, the corrosive influence of money in politics has effectively suppressed the voices of millions of hardworking American families.
Jon Tester, thankfully, is doing something about it.
His legislation includes a Constitutional Amendment that strikes at the heart of the Citizens United ruling by declaring corporations are not people — an assertion obvious to most Americans. The Sunlight for Unaccountable Non-Profits (SUN) Act would rein in the role of so-called “dark money” groups by requiring them to disclose the identity of donors who contribute more than $5,000. And the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act would require Senate candidates to electronically file campaign finance reports, which would save taxpayers’ money and make disclosures more quickly available to the public.
These bills would bring arcane Senate rules into the 21st century and add much needed transparency to campaign finance reporting. They would give the public the ability to learn who is trying to buy influence in our elections. And they would undercut a key element of the disastrous Citizens United decision by establishing that corporations are not afforded the same rights as real people.
William Clark may be long gone, but other powerful corporate special interests – like the Koch Brothers – are alive and kicking. Senator Tester’s reform package seeks to put an end to their outsized influence and ensure all our citizens have an equal say in our democracy.