Montana scores a major Sunshine Week victory

Independent Record

March 17, 2016

Despite Montana’s shortcomings when it comes to open government, the state scored a major victory during Sunshine Week.

In a report released Wednesday, which came amid a nationwide initiative promoting open government and freedom of information, the National Institute on Money in State Politics awarded Montana an A grade in a review of campaign finance transparency policies in each state.

Overall, Montana earned nearly 16 points more than the national average with a score of 92.5, ranking ninth-best in the country for campaign finance reporting and disclosure. The state received perfect scores for data it requires candidates to include on campaign finance disclosures filed with Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl.

Nearly one-third of the total points awarded to Montana are a result of the recently passed Disclose Act, a contentious but necessary law that seeks to bring more transparency to election spending.

The approval of this law was a big step in the right direction for Montana, and we encourage our state’s leaders to keep the ball rolling.

One of the main reasons for our state’s transparency weaknesses is a simple lack of attention to the problem. Many of the state’s transparency issues have never been challenged or clarified, probably due in large part to Montana’s small population, but the Legislature’s recent victory with the Disclose Act proves it is possible to improve the laws on the books if enough people get behind the effort.

The new legislation requires more organizations to disclose their donors and spending, restricts coordination between candidates and outside organizations, and requires candidates to file same-day electronic disclosures of their contributions. In a state with a history of corruption dating back to the days when powerful “copper kings” outright bought state elections, the legislation shines a light on dark money, which makes it much easier for members of the public to see who is trying to influence their decision at the polls.