Year In Review: Dark Money and the Keystone Pipeline

Dark Money Casts Shadow Over 2012 Montana Elections

By Amy Sisk

An unprecedented amount of money entered the 2012 Montana elections thanks in part to a June 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down the state’s century-old ban on corporate campaign contributions.

An analysis of campaign finance records by the Associated Press showed that a record $47 million poured into the 2012 U.S. Senate race between Jon Tester, Democrat, and Denny Rehberg, Republican. That amount includes direct contributions, as well as $25 million from unions, business groups, and partisan committees. Six years earlier, the race for the same Senate seat drew just $17.5 million in spending.

The SCOTUS ruling overturned the Montana Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the state’s campaign finance regulations, which citizens voted into law in 1912 to crush the political influence of mining barons.

Corporations and unions could now make unlimited political expenditures in state elections, reminding some of the early 20th-century political land- scape, when Montana copper kings bought and bribed their way into power.
The Citizens United decision is wildly unpopular in Montana. More than 70 percent demanded that it be overturned, endorsing an initiative on the November 2012 ballot.

In 2013, Montana legislators grappled with the best way to move forward, voting on a number of proposals to limit the “dark money” responsible for attack ads. Several proposals brought by both Republicans and Democrats sought to wipe out groups like the American Tradition Partnership, which they claimed hid behind a 501(c)(4) tax exempt status to avoid disclosing donations and expenditures.

Montana Politicians Endorse Keystone XL

By Hanah Redman

During the 2012 election campaign, every Montana politician of national ambition endorsed it. This past spring, even the local newspaper of the notoriously liberal college town of Missoula came out in favor. Based on popular sentiment in one of the least important states in the union, President Barack Obama’s final approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline seemed pretty much a given.

TransCanada’s new pipeline will cross three states – Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska — before joining the existing pipeline near Steele City, Nebraska. It would cover 875 miles of land (as opposed to an earlier proposal’s 1,384 miles) to transport crude oil from Alberta, Canada, and the Bakken Shale Formation in Montana to Cushing, Oklahoma, and the Gulf Coast region of Texas.

In December 2012, the Montana Land Board approved 50-year easements for the pipeline to cross state-owned land. Those opposed to the easements pointed out that the pipeline would cross the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers. This could lead to an evironmental disaster, like on March 27, 2012, when a Canadian Pacific train derailed in Minnesota, leaking an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 gallons of crude oil onto the frozen prairie.

The opposition’s main concern regarding the pipeline is that it supports tar- sand development in neighboring Canada, thus fueling climate change.

Tony Hartshorn, an assistant professor in the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Science at Montana State University, said tar sand drilling contributes to greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide and water vapors, while also thinning the forest keeping those emissions in check.

Climate change, however, still isn’t an issue that has much traction in Montana. After all, Glendive isn’t New York, and the state hasn’t had any natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy — yet.