Bill takes aim at foreign ‘dark money’

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A bill has been introduced to the Montana Legislature that would ban spending and contributions in state elections by foreign entities. Missoula Democrat Sen. Nate McConnell is the sponsor of the bill that is being backed by Gov. Steve Bullock.

Federal law prohibits foreign contributions to political campaigns, but Bullock said foreign nationals have evaded it by setting up shell corporations in the U.S. According to the governor’s office, this law would designate certain groups as “foreign influenced” if they are using domestic shell corporations to evade the law, ultimately closing a loophole created by the 2010 Citizens United case. Under Citizens United, a foreign national can set up an American corporation to spend influencing elections.

While most of us wouldn’t think that a foreign government or group would have any interest in impacting a Montana election, Bullock strongly asserts this threat “isn’t speculative. It’s real, and it’s happening now.”

In fact, the Associated Press reported this week that the super PAC Right to Rise, which supported Jeb Bush’s bid to become the Republican candidate for president, solicited $1.3 million in illegal donations from Chinese nationals. A California business, controlled by a majority Chinese-owned company, was fined $550,000 for making the donation.

The idea that a foreign entity could simply set up a domestic corporation in name only and easily sway a state election should worry all of us.

McConnell’s bill would be another important step in rooting out avenues for so called “dark money” and bringing transparency back to our elections.

Outside spending in Montana elections is already outrageous — it’s reported that more than $40 million was spent by outside groups on the recent election between U.S. Sen. Tester and State Auditor Matt Rosendale, shattering the state record for election spending. Those funds, mostly funneled though so-called super PACs, paid for many of the obnoxious attack ads bombarding our media in the months leading up to Election Day.

Montana has a track record of standing up for transparency in elections, and we certainly support this newest effort in the battle against dark money. Let’s do what we can to keep Montana’s elections in the hands of Montanans.

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