Bullock tells Montana contractors to report ‘dark money’ spending
HELENA, Montana — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock signed a first-of-its-kind executive order last week to require many state government contractors to report their political contributions, even those to so-called “dark money” groups that don’t have to disclose donors under federal law.
Bullock said the measure is an example of how states can bring transparency to spending by groups classified as social welfare organizations under the federal tax code. Those dark money groups’ influence increased dramatically after the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that allowed unlimited corporate election spending.
Bullock, who is exploring a possible presidential run in 2020, said he hopes other governors will follow his example, as they have with a net neutrality executive order he signed in January. New York and New Jersey governors have signed their own versions of Bullock’s order requiring state contractors to not interfere with internet speeds or content.
“Just like net neutrality, this is (an) area where state governors can make a meaningful, meaningful difference,” he said.
Under the executive order, all companies submitting bids for contracts valued at more than $25,000 for services or $50,000 for goods must disclose two years’ worth of political spending if that spending exceeds $2,500.
The requirement will take effect Oct. 1, and current contractors are exempt. Bullock’s chief legal counsel estimated that the new requirement would apply to between 500 and 600 contracts a year.
Bullock passed the 2015 Disclose Act through the Republican-led Montana Legislature under the similar principle of requiring more transparency by all groups that spend money to influence state elections. That law has been upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, though two challenges are still pending.
Anita Milanovich, an attorney suing to strike down the Disclose Act, said Bullock’s approach amounts to a distorted interpretation of Citizens United, adding that the court’s call for increased disclosure applied only to groups expressly advocating for the election or defeat of a candidate.
The Montana law requires disclosure of any group that simply mentions a candidate in advertising, and the executive order takes the law a step further by targeting donors to those groups, she said.
The governor effectively dared someone to file a legal challenge to his executive order.
“Look, I’d certainly welcome some dark money group to challenge it, because I think it’s not only consistent with the law but consistent with what Montanans hope to know about who’s trying to influence their elections.”
Navajos commemorate anniversary of 1868 treaty
ALBUQUERQUE — A group of Navajo runners had reached a dusty New Mexico hilltop while retracing a 400-mile desert route that their ancestors had crossed a century and a half earlier.
The runners said a prayer before heading west on their trek to the Navajo Nation capital of Window Rock, Arizona, and Navajo Vice President Jonathan Nez reflected on how they had grown stronger with each day, just as he imagined their ancestors might have in 1868.
That year, more than 7,000 Navajos made the same journey home to the Four Corners area of the Southwest after surviving years of incarceration at Bosque Redondo at the U.S. military’s Fort Sumner in eastern New Mexico. Conditions there were so dire and deadly that many starved and fell ill, according to multiple historical accounts, and many Navajos also died during their forced relocation, known as the Long Walk, starting in 1863.
The signing of the Navajo Treaty of 1868 signaled an end to the difficult chapter, allowing for the Navajos to return home to an area that has since become the United States’ largest American Indian reservation.
The treaty terms Navajos negotiated gave them 5,300 square miles within the boundaries of four mountain peaks the Navajos hold sacred. Their promises to the United States included not interfering with the building of railroads.
The treaty is among more than 300 the United States signed with tribes. It’s exceptional in that it allowed for Navajos to return to their homeland.
During the same era, numerous other tribes were forced from their homelands or saw them diminished as America expanded west. The same year of the Navajo’s treaty, for example, Sioux tribes entered into one that deeded land, including the Black Hills, to the Lakota. But the discovery of gold brought waves of settlers, and the government seized the land in 1877.
Idaho to take over regulating water pollution from EPA
BOISE — Idaho will take over regulating pollution discharge into the state’s lakes and rivers from the federal government under an agreement signed in June by the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said the agreement was the culmination of a tremendous amount of work and partnership between the state and the federal agency.
Pruitt signed the agreement at the Idaho statehouse with Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter. It shifts control of permitting and enforcement aspects under the federal Clean Water Act to the state starting July 1.
Idaho is one of only four states where federal authorities manage pollution discharge into surface waters. The others are New Mexico, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
Idaho officials say a state-run program will be more responsive, and local experts who are better acquainted with Idaho will be making decisions.
However, Idaho can’t write permits that are less stringent than the EPA permits, and the EPA retains oversight of the program.
The added duties mean the state has to more than double the number of workers in the program to have the equivalent of 29 full-time positions at a projected cost of $3 million annually. Idaho lawmakers in recent years have been approving funding.
Utah LGBT groups allowed in July Fourth parade after uproar
SALT LAKE CITY — Organizers of a prominent Utah July Fourth festival struck a deal last week to allow five LGBT organizations to participate in the parade, reversing an initial rejection given just hours after signing a nondiscrimination agreement with Provo city leaders.
The deal followed an outcry that included the Utah County Commission chairman threatening to rescind $100,000 in funding and an LGBT group leader denouncing festival organizers as showing “staggering bigotry.”
Festival organizers said earlier that the five LGBT organizations were among 22 applications denied for failing to meet its specific requirements.
It’s unclear which requirements the groups had not met. Festival organizers said participants cannot touch on political or social issues and must focus their applications on the spirit of patriotism.
“Let’s celebrate America pure and simple,” festival director Paul Warner said in a statement after the rejections were announced.
North Dakota mayor re-elected with all 3 of town’s votes
RUSO, North Dakota — The man believed to be North Dakota’s oldest mayor has breezed to another term, winning unanimously in a vote that saw 100 percent turnout.
Ruso Mayor Bruce Lorenz captured all three votes cast in the state’s smallest incorporated city, the Minot Daily News reported .
The 86-year-old retired rural mail carrier estimates he’s been mayor for more than three decades. He said he forgot June 12 was election day until his daughter reminded him.
“I’ll have to go down the street and see if I can find a cigar,” he quipped.
Recent health issues have caused Lorenz to move into an assisted living facility in Minot, which may limit his duties as mayor.
“My health went to pot this spring,” he said. “I can’t even walk anymore without a walker. Life gives us some strange roads. We’ll see what takes place.”
Lorenz said he’ll still serve as mayor. He does have a platform — he wants to get rural water service in the McLean County town.