Helena Independent Record: Group files challenge to Bullock’s executive order on ‘dark money’ and state contracts

One of the hallmark messages of Montana Gov. Steve Bullock's campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination is the subject of a lawsuit filed by the Liberty Justice Center this week in U.S. federal court in Helena.

The lawsuit, Illinois Opportunity Project v Bullock, challenges Montana governor’s executive order requiring potential bidders for state contracts to disclose any donations to political parties, candidates and issue advocacy groupson the grounds it is stifling companies’ First Amendment rights while doing nothing to prevent corruption in the state contract bidding process.

This article originally appeared August 28, 2019 in the Helena Independent Record.

In June 2018, Bullock signed an executive order saying that to receive a state contract, an organization must report its political contributions. The order extends to so-called social welfare nonprofit organizations that, under campaign finance laws, do not have to disclose their donors. It applies to organizations that have spent more than $2,500 over the past two-year cycle and is for contracts of more than $50,000 for goods or $25,000 for services.

The information is then disclosed in a portal on a state website. While Montana has some of the most stringent campaign finance laws in the country, the 501c(4) status of social welfare nonprofit organizations means that unlike political action committees or other groups that spend in elections, they do not have to disclose where their money comes from.

The group bringing the lawsuit against Bullock’s executive order is the Illinois Opportunity Project. In the lawsuit, filed Tuesday, the group says it plans to spend money in Montana during the 2020 election cycle, interestingly enough, to urge candidates for governor to unravel Bullock’s executive order if they are elected.

“(IOP) plans to make paid communications by mail to thousands of Montana voters within 90 days of the 2020 general election,” the lawsuit reads. The organization receives money from a variety of sources, including corporations and Montanans that may want to bid on state projects, the lawsuit says.

“IOP is concerned that compelled disclosure of its donors could lead to substantial personal and economic repercussions for its supporters,” the lawsuit reads. “Across the country, individual and corporate donors to political candidates and issue causes are being subject to boycotts, harassment, protests, career damage and even death threats for publicly engaging in the public square.”

Read the full article on Helena Independent Record.