Thursday, July 16, 2015

July newspaper column

July's column for the local paper was printed today under the title, "Big Political Idea from Big Sky Country." It feels too much like a car running on tires that don't have enough air ... OK, but sluggish and unconvinced and teetering on some whiny, solemn cusp. I don't much like it. In writing, sometimes you have to eat shit because there is nothing else on the table and Montana refused to shut up in my mind ... or rather, I couldn't muster another, more sassy focal point. Oh well, maybe there will be a naked lady jumping out of next month's cake.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015
(Published in print: Thursday, July 16, 2015

If the election were held today, I would vote for Montana.

It’s not as if I know a hell of a lot about Montana or imagine it doesn’t have its flaws. I haven’t got a clue where Montana stands on God or immigration or the Affordable Care Act or the Confederate battle flag or gun control or socialism or trickle-down economics or gay rights or faux (read Fox) news presentations.

But Montana has at least taken a stab at telling me what it’s for — which is more than I can gather from the candidates.

In 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission that corporations, being people, have the right to “speak” about elections and that therefore earlier prohibitions against corporate financing within 60 days of the election were unconstitutional.

Writing for the 5-4 majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy asserted, “We now conclude that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”

The ruling met with a resounding “hogwash!” from Montana, which let it be known that it would implicitly ignore the high court and stick with its own 1912 law that campaign financing should be regulated. Montana had lived through an era when political offices were bought and sold. The state had no intention of repeating that history.

But the merchants of political clout were not about to accept Montana’s nose-thumbing posture.

In 2012, the Supreme Court summarily dispatched Montana’s intransigence, ruling that everyone — Montana included — had to abide by the Citizens United decision.

Montana’s feisty insurrection had been quelled and for big spenders, it was open season at last.

But then, in 2015, Montana passed a bipartisan law that said in effect, “OK, we’ll abide by Citizens United, but ...” And the “but” turned out to be a law saying that donations and donors to Montana politics were required to provide their names and numbers.

Those wishing to donate to — or purchase — a political post could do so ... as long as they owned up to their activity. No more anonymity or what is sometimes called “dark money.”

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, “spending by organizations that do not disclose their donors has increased from less than $5.2 million in 2006 to well over $300 million in the 2012 presidential cycle and more than $174 million in the 2014 midterms.”

Last week, Republican candidate Jeb Bush announced that between his own campaigning and the help of super political-action committees, he had raised something close to $114 million in the first half of the year. The number eclipses his rivals and, from a money point of view, all but cements his first-place status in the Republican stable of candidates.

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, announced she is on track to raise $45 million in campaign contributions in the first three months of the year. The Democratic super PAC Priorities USA Action hopes that with Clinton’s support it can rustle up between $200 million and $300 million worth of free speech.

Then there are the other candidates, most of whom have a super-PAC in the wings exercising their multi-million-dollar “free speech.”

Where does all this money go? What is it for? Are the candidates for whom it is intended immune to their generous donors and their desires? And do these dizzying amounts of money bear any relation to finding a thoughtful and principled leader for the nation?

Shall the skeptics among us surrender our doubts to Justice Kennedy’s soothing opinion that “independent expenditures do not lead to, or create the appearance of, quid pro quo corruption?” 

Maybe so.

But if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, I still think it’s probably a duck. Or, as I imagine Montana saying, “hogwash!” If corruption or the appearance of corruption is institutionalized, is it any less corruption?

Several other states besides Montana have laws or regulations relating to the purchase and sale of political office. But none has been quite so outspoken or confrontational as Montana.

And one of the strange parts of this tale is that the Citizens United decision leaves the door open to precisely the kind of transparency that Montana has decided to advocate. In the future, those challenging Montana’s latest show-and-tell law — those wishing to keep donors secret — may themselves be slapped down.

Over 40 states have yet to address the issue in their own backyards. It’s ticklish, dontcha know: “Transparency” is lovely to say but requires real grit to implement ... perhaps the kind of grit we might expect in a national leader.

Yes, I’m voting for Montana.

Adam Fisher lives in Northampton. His column appears on the third Wednesday of the month. He can be reached at

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