HELENA – Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed a bill Friday that would have revised campaign practice laws in the state and made changes to the Commissioner of Political Practices office, saying the bill would undermine its effectiveness and would raise contribution limits far above what residents think is acceptable.
Bullock vetoed Senate Bill 368, sponsored by Sen. Tom Richmond, R-Billings. He said the bill would restructure the COPP office and raise campaign contribution limits.
“The proposed changes to the structure of the office would completely undermine its effectiveness and the increases in contribution levels are far above what Montanans believe to be acceptable,” Bullock wrote in his veto letter to Secretary of State Corey Stapleton.
According to the bill, SB 368 would have generally revised campaign practice laws, increased the filing fees for legislative candidates, changed laws related to investigation of campaign practices, created an appeal procedure for certain complaints and prohibit the commissioner from filing criminal action against a candidate for some violations.
A review of the bill showed that some contribution limits could increase as much as 300 percent.
Bullock said Montanans put contribution limits in place through a citizens’ initiative in 1994 and in 2012, they overwhelmingly passed I-166.
“That initiative delivered clear instructions to Montana’s leaders to fight against the ever-increasing amount of money in politics,” Bullock wrote.
He also said the bill would impose costly mediation and shift the venue for enforcement actions on to Lewis and Clark County. Bullock said on-demand mediation could be exploited to delay and increase the costs of enforcement.
The COPP underwent several legislative attacks during the 2017 session. The term of commissioner Jonathan Motl expired and lawmakers and confirmed former Democratic legislator Jeff Mangan of Great Falls as his replacement.
Republicans have accused the agency of favoring Democrats.
However, Bullock on Friday gave the agency some credit.
“Due to the Montana Disclose Act and the significant efforts of the COPP over the course of the last two years, our 2016 elections were among the most transparent and cleanest on record,” he wrote. “SB 368 is a palpably political effort to undo this progress.”
Founded in 1975, the COPP, according to its website, enforces “campaign practices and campaign finance disclosure, lobbying disclosure, business interest disclosure of statewide and state district candidates, elected state officials, and state department directors, ethical standards of conduct for legislators, public officers, and state employees, and to investigate legitimate complaints that arise concerning any of the foregoing.”
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