A bill to reform state campaign finance laws hit a snag on Monday when Senators rejected work by their peers in the House.
Billings Republican Tom Richmond says his bill to increase contribution limits and remove loopholes in state campaign laws passed with wide support, picking up all but two votes in the Senate in March, but is now at risk of being vetoed by the governor unless changed.
Richmond says House lawmakers amended Senate Bill 368 to move some supervision duties of the Commissioner of Political Practices to the Attorney General’s Office.
“But I see it as interjecting more of a partisan approach into the bill than we ever intended to have in the bill. We wanted it to be a bipartisan bill, to have strong support and go to the Governor’s office, some assurances he would sign the bill as long as it was bipartisan,” he said.
The Office of the Commissioner of Political Practices, which is in charge of enforcing state campaign, lobbying and disclosure laws, has been a partisan topic of the legislative session. Republican lawmakers have at times proposed dismantling the office out of concern of the state’s top political cop becoming influenced by political favoritism.
Senate Bill 368 narrowly passed out of the House, while picking up opposition from Democrats and some Republicans to the idea of raising contribution limits to political candidates.
Democratic Representative Zac Perry from Hungry Horse testified against the bill during its debate on the House floor.
“Any bill that is going to put more money into the process and have less transparency is a disservice to the people of Montana and to the way we do business here," said Perry.
The bill would raise the amount of money individuals, political parties and committees can give to candidates seeking public office.
Senator Tom Richmond says new limits needed to be set after a federal judge last year struck down the old limits as unconstitutional and too low.
The bill sponsored by Democratic and Republican Senators would also remove a loophole that allows candidates to roll over extra fundraising money from primary to general elections.
On Monday, the Senate rejected the amended version of SB 368 sent to them by the House and moved to a conference committee, to be negotiated by a bipartisan group of lawmakers from the House and Senate.