August 12, 2016
Dear Fellow Montanans:
Monday of next week (August 15) marks the last day that groups making issue-focused independent expenditure ads or mailings can do so without reporting and disclosing the cost and timing of those activities to Montanans. There has been a recent increase in this issue-focused activity in Montana's gubernatorial race.
I have discussed this issue with a number of Montanans and members of the press during the past few weeks. The first question asked is where did the August 15, 2016 date come from. The Disclose Act, passed by the 2015 Montana Legislature, set that date. It is 60 days from the start of voting in Montana, measured by the day absentee voting begins. The 60-day pre-election mark was determined to be the point where issue ads or mailings featuring names or photos of candidates could influence an election to the point where the cost of the activity needs to be reported and disclosed to Montanans.
The tension inherent in reporting and disclosure based on the timing of issue ads stems from competing constitutional interests. Campaign regulation is allowed based on the interest of the Community in knowing who is conducting election-related speech. Undisclosed and unreported speech ("dark money") is allowed based on the disconnect (determined by length of time) between the speech and the election. In contrast, if the election speech actually advocates a vote for or against a candidate, then it always must be reported or disclosed as there is no possible disconnect.
I realize this discussion is jolting to many Montanans. We have not forgotten that a sound majority of Montanans, as recently as the 2012 vote on Initiative 166, have told public officials, including the Commissioner, that they want full reporting/disclosure and equal opportunity in regard to campaign practices and funding. As you know, though, political campaigns now operate in a post-Citizens United world. We must move carefully through this new political landscape with nuanced regulation such as those adopted by the Disclose Act.
We have also received a number of phone calls concerning RoboCalls originating from a Texas PAC. The RoboCalls solicit support for a US presidential candidate. The RoboCalls were troublesome with some even going to Montana state employee phone numbers. While federal campaigns fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal Election Commission, the Montana Legislature has directed this Office to take informal action when issues such as attribution are involved. We have written to the PAC asking it to adjust its RoboCall efforts so that they are more compatible with Montana's political culture.
Please keep calling us with issues and concerns as you see them.