Lawmakers explain their votes on finance reform 

The federal campaign finance reform bill, the most significant piece of legislation in the last 30 years to address the influence of money in the election process, easily passed both houses of Congress last week. Montana lawmakers, however, voted against it two to one.

Last week the U.S. Senate approved the Shays-Meehan bipartisan campaign reform act by a vote of 60 to 40. The House had already approved the measure in February by a vote of 240 to 189. Sen. Max Baucus, the lone Democrat in Montana’s three-man congressional delegation, voted for the bill. His Republican colleagues, Sen. Conrad Burns and Rep. Dennis Rehberg, voted against it.

Last week, all three representatives explained, via e-mailed responses to the Independent, why they voted as they did.

“I voted today for the successful campaign finance reform legislation because it is critical to restore common sense, principles and trust in American government,” reads Baucus’ statement. “Simply put, campaign finance reform is right for Montana because it will place the debate of ideas and what’s right for our state and country before money and politics.”

Burns, however, sees the bill as violation of First Amendment guarantees, writing: “On principle I believe this legislation is a gross violation of an individual’s freedom of speech. Politically, it will be ineffective at halting the flow of unregulated third-party campaign donations; in fact, this legislation would open the floodgates for special interest groups to wield unchecked influence in political campaigns…Passage of this legislation assaults the principles of liberty that we exercise in this very chamber and, perhaps more importantly, augments the influence of these phantom organizations and individuals in our political system. As a former broadcaster, I understand the commercial value of airtime. I am deeply troubled by how Shays-Meehan tampers with the rates of radio and TV stations across our nation.”

Rehberg opposed the bill because “it stripped freedom of speech rights from Montana citizens and advocacy groups like the Farm Bureau and the National Rifle Association and then turns around and allows out-of-state media conglomerates like The New York Times and ABC to run amok with no limits and no controls. Simply put, this is a bad bill all about protecting incumbents and limiting the opportunity of non-millionaire, citizen legislators from being elected to Congress. That’s just bad policy—it’s bad for Montanans, it’s bad for the public process and worst of all, it does nothing to reform the gross process of having to raise millions of dollars every year to win re-election.”

Rehberg says he supports “open disclosure laws, a mandate limiting out-of-state funding for campaigns and reforms guaranteeing that corporations and unions respect the wishes of their employees and members when using dues for political purposes. This bill accomplishes none of our common sense goals.”

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