Friday, April 12, 2013

Tempers flare over “dark money” disclaimer bill

WittichRepublicans in the GOP Senate caucus clashed again on the Senate floor Friday over a bill aimed at requiring disclaimers on political speech paid for with anonymous or “dark money” funds.

House Bill 254, by Rep. Rob Cook, R-Conrad, would require the following disclaimer on political mailers and websites that are paid for with anonymous contributions:

"This communication is funded by anonymous sources.  The voter should determine the veracity of  its content."

Republican Senate Majority Leader Art Wittich, a staunch opponent of the bill, called it “terrible bill” and dubbed members of the Republican caucus who were likely to vote with Democrats to pass the measure “the crossover coalition.”

Wittich has opposed measures supported by some of his fellow Republicans aimed at cracking down at dark money anonymous political spending in Montana election.

Realizing that the bill was likely to pass, Wittich said:

“I didn’t make an amendment because I know where this vote is going. The crossover coalition and the Democrats are going to pass this bill, and everybody is going to be happy, and the headlines will be ‘we took a shot at dark money didn’t we do great,’” Wittich said.

Wittich said the content and “truthfulness”  of political messages is what is important.

“We’ve lost sight of all of that in all these campaign finance reform bills,” Wittich said. “We hear all about dark money, the spin of dark money. Well, it is about owning your vote. It’s about the exposure of your voting record and its the one thing people back home can find out about you.”

Wittich said voters can’t find out about “back room deals,” “vote trading,” “all the lobbyist transactions” and “spending other people’s money.”

Those last points touched a nerve with some of Wittich’s fellow Republicans, who took the unusual step of challenging their majority leader on the floor of the Senate.

Sen. Alan Olson, R-Roundup, is the sponsor of the two proposed legislative referendums on voting that last week sent the Senate into a tail spin as Democrats erupted on the floor in an attempt block their passage.

A week later Olson was at the center of another floor fight, but this time the jabs were traded within the GOP caucus.

Here’s the transcript of what happened after Wittich’s floor speech in opposition to HB254.

Sen. Alan Olson: Mr. Chairman, Sen. Wittich, could you identify the crossover coalition for me?

Chairman Ed Walker: To the bill please.

Sen. Art Wittich: Mr. Chairman, would you like a list, Sen. Olson?

Chairman: Sen. Olson.

Olson: Mr. Chairman, it was in the good senator’s discussion on the bill. I guess I’d like to know who the crossover coalition is, Mr. Chairman. Being as it was brought up by the good Senator from Bozeman.

Walker: I just feel that’s out of order at this point. Um, Sen. Wittich.

Wittich: Mr. Chairman, I don’t know the specific names right now, but we see it on the board, often.

Walker: Sen. Olson.

Olson: Mr. Chairman. Follow up?

Walker: Will Sen. Wittich yield?

Wittich: Yes.

Olson: Mr. Chairman, Sen. Wittich, you mention members of this body trading votes. Could you identify those individuals?

Wittich: Mr. Chairman, Sen. Olson, I’m not sure that would be a very comfortable thing for you if I started disclosing that. We all know that it happens.

Walker: Senators can we just keep the decorum in the body, please? Sen. Cliff Larsen, would like to close on your motion?

Larsen: Mr. Chairman, I think the floor is still open. I believe other people want to speak. I’d feel comfortable if they were recognized…

Walker: Sen. Peterson, for what purpose do you rise?

Sen. Jim Peterson: “Mr. Chairman I was going to rise on a point of personal privilege, but I’ll do that later.”

Walker: “Sen. Jones, for what purpose do you rise?

Sen. Llew Jones: “Mr. Chairman I do have a question for Sen. Wittich.

Walker: Will Sen. Wittich yield?

Wittich: Sure.

Jones: Mr Chairman, Sen. Wittich, you suggested that a crossover coalition was voting in some block. Are you suggesting that we should vote…should put something other than our conscience or our caucus ahead of our vote?

Walker: Sen. Wittich?

Wittich: Mr. Chairman, Sen. Jones, I’m not sure I understand the question.

Jones: You seem to be suggesting, somehow, that our vote was specifically owed to a group of people for some reason. That we couldn’t vote our conscience or we couldn’t represent our constituents, that somehow…

Walker: Can we keep it on the bill please..the bill… we’re talking about votes throughout this session. May we please keep it on the bill, which is HB254.

Jones: I withdraw my question.

Walker: Sen. Essmann.

President Jeff Essmann: Mr. Chairman, members of the body I think we should confine our discussion on the floor to the bill that’s before us and when we stray I would remind any member of this body they have the right to stand up and call the chair to bring any member that strays off the topic of the bill to order. That should be the procedure that we follow here if we stray.

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