A recent report commissioned by the Montana Chamber of Commerce alleges that Initiative 125, a measure approved by voters in 1996 banning direct corporate contributions to ballot initiative campaigns, was itself financed by “big money grants and contributions,” much of which went unreported.
The Chamber study, entitled “Who Brought Initiative 125 to Montana?,” charges “appalling hypocrisy” on the part of I-125 advocates for their failure to inform voters that the initiative was funded “primarily by out-of-state interests and only two percent by individual Montanans.”
Among the individuals and groups targeted in the report are Ted Turner, MontPIRG, Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, the Hollywood Women’s Action Fund, and other “primarily East Coast entities that fund liberal causes across the country.”
I-125, approved by a 52-to-48 percent margin, was declared unconstitutional by U.S. District Court Judge Charles Lovell on Oct. 22,1998 but has been appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court.
“I think it’s a pretty fictional report,” says MontPIRG Executive Director Chris Newbold. “It’s a complete public relations ploy. The allegations in there are just ridiculous. Obviously, they’re giving us quite a bit of credit for pulling off a huge coup.”
The report asserts that Montana voters were unaware that “a substantial portion of the signatures needed to place I-125 on the 1996 ballot were gathered by University of Montana students enrolled in a class originated for precisely that type of action, [and] that nearly all those students were from out-of-state.”
“[I]t does take some money to run a political movement,” the report states, in its explanation of how I-125 received funding from the Turner Foundation. “So how do that movement’s leaders obtain funding without getting it from corporations? They get it from really rich people who own the corporations.”
It’s worth noting that funding for the Chamber’s $10,000 report was provided by the Washington Corp., Montana Power, Atlantic Richfield, Sterling Mining, Bill Snoddy of the McDonald Gold Mine Project, and other so-called “wise-use” advocates.
Not surprisingly, the report was released about a week after the U.S. Supreme Court decision reaffirming a state’s right to impose campaign contribution limits. In Nixon v. Shrink, the Court ruled that even the appearance of corruption is a constitutional justification for the state to impose individual contribution limits, and is not a violation of free speech rights.
The case will likely have an impact on a legal challenge to Montana’s I-118. That initiative, passed by voters in 1994, limits individual contributions to $100 for state legislative races and $400 for the governor’s race. I-118 is being challenged in U.S. District Court by Montana Right-to-Life.