By Representative Jessica Karjala, Billings HD 48, and Representative Tom Woods, Bozeman HD 62
Ten TEA Party legislators recently proposed a special session. Supposedly, these folks want to use this very expensive process to “address campaign finance issues.” We believe that there are ulterior motives to their proposal which need to be recognized.
Some Tea Party Republicans say the expensive, taxpayer-funded measure of convening a special legislative session is necessary to fix what they call “defects” in Montana law governing campaign contributions. What “defects” do these people want to fix? One of the requestors, Representative Monforton, said he believed Montana should have no limits on how much cash people, PACs and party committees can give to candidates.
These TEA party folks want to remove limits on the amount of money politicians can get from wealthy donors and PAC’s? We think that’s exactly the opposite of what our constituents want.
Montana voters have been very clear that they want to limit campaign contributions. We implemented contribution limits with 70% of voters supporting the idea. The bottom line is that more money in elections allows wealthy people to buy political influence. Most Montanans are against this.
The question needs to be put to the legislators requesting this special session; Why should we spend public dollars convening a special session when the voters of Montana have clearly spoken in support of campaign contribution limits? Whose interests are these Tea Party Republicans representing with their request?
Proponents of a special session have made their case that Montana should allow more money to be spent in state elections because North Dakota and Idaho allow higher campaign contributions than we do. To that, we would say that we have spoken with a lot of people in our districts. Nobody has ever asked us to raise contribution limits or make Montana more like North Dakota. Nope, not once, not ever, case closed.
The “Tea Party 10” have stated that another goal of a special session would be to close a “loophole” in campaign finance law. This is a clever turn of phrase that masks political gamesmanship. Here’s what they are up to.
For some time now political parties have been allowed to hire and pay a staff to do political work. A reasonable person would call that what political parties do, right? These Tea Party legislators are calling call this a “loophole” and want to use their special session to pass a law to prevent it. Let’s examine the logic here. Why on one hand would a group want to increase campaign donations yet on the other hand wish to prevent the parties from hiring and paying staff to do political work?
The answer is simple: the Montana Republican party is broke while the Democrats are not. In essence, they are trying to use taxpayer dollars and the legal process hobble the Democratic party. This political play is particularly beneficial to the Republican candidate for governor Greg Gianforte, who is wealthy enough to pay his staff out of his own pocket and is not reliant on his party for financial help.
Rep. Monforton further stated a special session could save the state tax dollars on potential litigation over campaign finance laws. This doesn’t hold water. No matter what the result of a special session would look like, somebody could still sue the state over it. Honestly, if Representative Monforton is truly concerned with preventing litigation he could stop suing the state as he has done so many times over the last couple years.
We are confident that all Democrat legislators will vote against this nonsense. From our experience in the legislature we have confidence that there are enough Republicans in office the with the sense and integrity to recognize that it is not okay to spend taxpayer dollars to serve partisan interests.