Opposed to ‘dark money’ and Citizens United, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock enters 2020 Democratic primary

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Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. (William Campbell-Corbis/Getty Images)

Campaign finance reform advocate and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock announced on Tuesday he will pursue the Democratic nomination for president in 2020.

In an announcement video, Bullock touted his background in fighting “dark money” and decried the influence of money in politics — “a government that serves campaign money, not the people” as he described the current system. The video highlighted his campaign finance advocacy as an effort to give Americans “a fair shot.” Bullock also hit upon his electoral success in a rural state that President Donald Trump won by 20 points.   

Bullock has a lengthy history as being one of the foremost political advocates for transparency in campaign finance, a mainstream position among most Democrats today. He received national attention as Montana Attorney General when he defended the state’s rigorous campaign finance laws against the precedent set by the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision. Ultimately, Montana’s 100-year-old law was overturned by the Supreme Court.

As governor in 2015, he signed a law that required dark money groups to disclose how they spend money on state races. During the summer of 2018, Bullock issued an executive order that requires Montana government contractors to disclose their political contributions, including to dark money groups. He also sued the IRS and the Treasury Department over their rule which allowed some 501(c) tax-exempt nonprofits from releasing names of their donors and addresses in tax returns. The award-winning documentary Dark Money focused on Montana’s battles for more disclosure.  

Bullock has a background in law, serving as an assistant attorney general in the late 1990s, practicing law for a Washington D.C. law firm in the early 2000s and then returning to Montana and running a private practice before being elected state attorney general in 2008. Bullock won his first election for governor in 2012 and handily won his reelection in 2016. As a governor in typically strong Republican territory, Bullock has fairly progressive stances on immigration, net neutrality and same-sex marriage.

As a two-time successful gubernatorial candidate, Bullock posted strong fundraising totals for a state-wide position. In his 2012 race, he raised around $1.9 million and did even better in his 2016 reelection with almost $3.3 million. Small donors, unitemized contributions under $200, make up most of Bullock’s fundraising — an encouraging sign for a primary where small donor support is critical.

As presidential speculation built around Bullock, he launched a PAC named Big Sky Values PAC. The PAC took in almost $1.4 million in the 2018 midterm cycle. Large portions were spent on fundraising, administrative and strategy and research costs, often a sign a candidate is planning a presidential run.  

It gave just $17,900 to federal candidates — seven House candidates and one Senate, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mon.), who received the bulk of the funds with $7,700. Four of the candidates are from Iowa and one from New Hampshire. The Democratic Parties of Iowa and New Hampshire each received $5,000 contributions.

The top donor to Bullock’s PAC with $45,000 was David Gray, a partner and chief legal officer at Ziff Brothers Investments. The second biggest donor was Michelle Locher with $40,000. Locher is married to Robert Ziff, billionaire and cofounder of Ziff Brothers Investments.   

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