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It has been eight years. That is how long corporations and special-interest groups have been using their free reign to spend as much dark money as they choose to influence the outcomes of political elections in Montana and throughout the United States of America, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

Ever since, Montana’s elections have become massive, multi-million-dollar media screaming matches between organizations on the extremes, seeking to influence Montana voters. Groups seeking to persuade voters interrupt our lives with unsolicited direct mail and robotic telephone calls at all times of the day. For the Senate and U.S. House races — just two seats in Congress — they will spend over $250 on every Montana voter trying to influence the outcome.

If these groups were telling the truth, it may not be as terrible as it is. Instead, unlimited political money from out-of-state organizations inundates Montanans with a virtual tsunami of lies, deception, false claims and confusing information. Even if a candidate or an organization is telling the truth (which may not matter to some, but still matters to most Montanans), we are all so over-exposed to negative political advertising that it is hard to tell the difference.

The results?

Montana — which sent statespeople like Mike Mansfield and Lee Metcalf to represent us — is currently represented by a convicted criminal who lied to law enforcement and who, since being elected, has refused to meet publicly with his own constituents.

Issues and policy are pushed aside by political expediency and pettiness.

In 2016, Donald Trump campaigned and won Montana handily, pledging to “drain the swamp” and stand up to lobbyists and corporate special interests. Since he has been in office, however, is only major legislative policy achievement has been to give tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations, while cutting back access to affordable, high-quality health care and depriving Montana farmers and ranchers from the ability to sell their products on the international market.

Republicans are not talking about issues such as economic growth, creation of good-paying job opportunities, affordable housing, access to quality health care and higher education, individual privacy and other issues that matter to Montanans. Neither are the Democrats, who focus more on being the “opposition” to President Trump without any articulated policy of their own that will benefit working Montanans and Americans. And when it comes to dark money, both Republicans and Democrats are all too happy to accept it to gain a leg up on the other side.

This is the fate we suffer with dark money ruling the way for Montana politics and politicians. The Golden Rule is no longer “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It is, whatever corporation or association is able and willing to spend the most money is most likely to win, regardless of the character (or lack thereof) of the candidate.

Eight years is enough. The Citizens United decision is toxic to Montanans, our families and our way of life. Our elected officials need to be accountable to every Montanan, not just the wealthy few and the corporate bullies who are taking over Montana. The new normal in Montana politics brought on by Citizens United is not normal at all. Montana voters need to turn out in massive amounts in the upcoming mid-term elections and ask themselves one critical question before they cast their vote: will this candidate oppose dark money or be too glad to take it? If we allow ourselves to be represented by dark-money politicians, then we don’t have any representation at all.

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John Heenan is an attorney in Billings. He was a candidate in this year's U.S. House Democratic primary. 


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