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Bullock raising corporate cash for Dems' gov group -- does that - KXLH.com | Helena, Montana

Bullock raising corporate cash for Dems' gov group -- does that make him a `hypocrite'?

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Governor Bullock (MTN News photo) Governor Bullock (MTN News photo)
HELENA -

This weekend in Whitefish, Gov. Steve Bullock hosts a “retreat” for the Democratic Governors Association, where its members will gather – and corporate donors and others will pour cash into DGA coffers.

Bullock chairs the DGA, which raises millions of dollars to help elect Democratic governors nationwide – just as the Republican Governors Association raises big bucks to help GOP gubernatorial candidates.

But Bullock’s work as DGA chair has drawn a steady stream of criticism from the Montana Republican Party, which labels him “Governor Hypocrite,” saying he is raising the very money he himself has called a bad influence on politics: Corporate cash and so-called, undisclosed “dark money.”

“You have a governor who has a long history of promising to fight dark money, and who has sold himself out when he takes over as DGA chair,” said Shane Scanlon, spokesman for the state Republican Party. “He had to know that when he took over the DGA, that his primary job was to raise money, and part of that is `dark money.’”

Bullock and the DGA, however, say the GOP charges are “silly,” inaccurate and ring pretty hollow.

The vast majority of the money raised by the DGA is disclosed, and the only money that isn’t will not be used for influencing elections, they say.

They also note the RGA is raising money the same way, and that Montana Republican Party leaders have done everything they can to defeat Bullock’s quest to force disclosure of “dark money” in Montana.

“(Bullock) said he would not use dark money (at the DGA) to influence elections, and that’s what we’ve done – we’ve kept with that,” says Jared Leopold, DGA spokesman in Washington, D.C. “The RGA is going to spend some money against Bullock, and that’s exactly what they’re doing: Raising dark money and raising corporate money.”

So, who’s the hypocrite here? An examination by MTN News of the fundraising and charges shows that each side, at times, has a leg to stand on – but they don’t always tell the whole story:

So, who’s the hypocrite here? An examination by MTN News of the fundraising and charges shows that each side, at times, has a leg to stand on – but they don’t always tell the whole story:

  • Corporate cash: The DGA’s main fundraising account has plenty of corporate donors, including insurance firms, prescription drug companies, Wal-Mart, aircraft manufacturers and energy firms. But so does the RGA – and it’s all disclosed, on forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service. The only real difference on donors is that labor unions give to the DGA, but usually not to the RGA.

There is no limit on how much corporations or individuals can give the DGA or RGA. Many donors have chipped in $100,000 this year; Koch Industries gave $1 million to the RGA.

Bullock has decried the influence of corporate money in politics. As attorney general, he fought to preserve Montana’s state ban on corporate spending to buy certain campaign ads. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down that ban in 2012.

Leopold says GOP suggestions that Bullock shouldn’t help the DGA raise corporate cash is tantamount to demanding he and Democrats engage in “unilateral disarmament,” because the RGA is raising corporate cash to campaign against him and other Democratic gubernatorial candidates in 2015 and 2016.

  • Dark money: Both the RGA and DGA have affiliated groups that raise what could be called “dark money” – funds spent for political purposes, and whose donors and spending don’t have to be disclosed.

The DGA group is called America Works USA. Records and public statements by the DGA indicate the group collected $3 million of the $17 million raised by the DGA the first six months of this year – but DGA officials wouldn’t confirm that figure.

Leopold says America Works will not be involved in campaigns, while Bullock is chair of the DGA. However, it did spend money on a “public education” campaign this summer in Pennsylvania, financing mailers and other media to criticize Republicans opposed to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposals during a budget impasse at the Pennsylvania Legislature.

The RGA has a similar group, called the Republican Governors Public Policy Committee. It raised $6 million last year. Both are nonprofits organized as 501(c)(4) groups – the same as most “dark money” groups.

  • Disclosure: The RGA and the DGA report most of their fundraising to the IRS or the Federal Election Commission. The 501(c)(4) groups file annual tax forms with the IRS, but not until months after the year ends, and without details on individual donors or spending.

Bullock was a key supporter of the bill approved by the 2015 Montana Legislature to force 501(c)(4) groups to disclose their donors and spending, if they spend money on campaign-related material close to the election.

Most GOP leaders in Montana, including state party chairman Jeff Essmann, strongly opposed the bill.

Scanlon, the MT GOP spokesman, said the DGA’s dark-money spending in Pennsylvania attacked Republicans and defended a Democratic governor – and sure looks like an attempt to influence a future election.

He also said Bullock “can’t pretend to be some crusader against corporate influence when he’s taking millions in unlimited corporate cash.”

Dave Parker, communications director for Gov. Bullock, said as chairman of the DGA, Bullock works to share policy solutions and Montana’s successes with fellow governors, recruit candidates – and “ensure they have the staff and resources they need to win.”

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