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Montana politicians launch fights against relaxed nonprofit disclosure rules

Montana Senator Jon Tester

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) has introduced multiple campaign finance reform bills since taking office in 2007.
(Rex Features via AP Images)


Two Montana politicians on Tuesday launched separate fights against the Trump administration’s decision to 
relax disclosure requirements on certain politically active nonprofit groups.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) introduced legislation that would overturn the decision and increase nonprofit transparency requirements. Gov. Steve Bullock (D-Mont.) filed a lawsuit in a Montana Federal District Court that would prevent the administration from implementing the new rules.

The Treasury Department announced last week that it would no longer require certain nonprofit organizations, such as 501(c)(4) groups, to disclose identifying information about their donors to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The move, which the department said will save resources and prevent the accidental release of confidential information, could allow groups like the National Rifle Association and Planned Parenthood to pour “dark money” into nationwide elections with less government oversight than before.

Tester’s legislation, dubbed the Spotlight Act, would effectively reverse the department’s new rules. The Spotlight Act would also require 501(c)(4), 501(c)(5) and 501(c)(6) groups to disclose to the IRS and the public the names of donors who contribute more than $5,000. Those groups do not have to release the names of any donors under current laws, which is why many politically active nonprofits are called “dark money” groups.

Bullock’s lawsuit, first reported by The New York Times, claims the IRS and Treasury Department unlawfully interfered with Montana’s ability to gather the data it needs to manage its tax laws. The suit also claims the Trump administration did not follow the Administrative Procedure Act, which requires agencies such as the Treasury Department to provide opportunities for public comment before changing policies.

Bullock’s litigation is seeking to nullify the new IRS rules, according to court documents.

Tester and Bullock have both been champions of campaign finance reform that increases election transparency. Tester has introduced multiple campaign finance reform plans, including a proposed constitutional amendment declaring that corporations are not people and a bill that would require senators to file campaign finance disclosures electronically.

Bullock helped push legislation in Montana that requires independent groups to disclose their donors if they spend money in state elections, regardless of the group’s tax status. He also signed an executive order requiring recipients of government contracts to disclose dark money spending in Montana elections.

Jordan Muller

Jordan joined the Center for Responsive Politics as a summer reporting intern in May 2018. He’s a junior magazine journalism and political science dual major at Syracuse University, where he also works as news editor of the independent student newspaper, The Daily Orange. Jordan was born and raised in California before moving to the East Coast in 2016.

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