Steve Bullock, the only Democratic presidential candidate focused mainly on achieving a top goal of democracy reformers, ended his campaign on Monday.
When the governor of Montana entered the already crowded field in May, he vowed to make his bid for the White House about "one big idea" — ending the influence of big money in politics as a prerequisite for addressing the nation's other big problems, from health care coverage to climate change.
Six months later, his fundraising and statistically insignificant standing in the polls remained lackluster enough that he'd only been invited to one debate and had little prospect of being asked to another. When announcing the end of his campaign, Bullock acknowledged that "the concerns that propelled me to enter in the first place have not changed."
A handful of the remaining contenders have added other aspects of the democracy reform agenda to their own platforms, but none made it a central pillar of their campaigns the way Bullock did. And generally they talk about these issues only when asked, as happened when November's debate in Atlanta turned for a few minutes to the perception that access to the voting booth is too difficult for too many.
Steve Bullock is hoping to rejuvenate his lagging presidential bid with an infusion from a rarely tapped vein of public money — but he's going to be stymied indefinitely because the federal officials tasked with approving the move have been stopped from doing their jobs.
More than any other White House aspirant, Montana's governor has focused his campaign on a commitment to getting big money out of politics, which he sees at the root of Washington's dysfunction and de facto corruption. And so his application to become the first — and probably the only — 2020 candidate to use taxpayer funds for his campaign can fairly be described as walking the walk after talking the talk.
Except the Federal Election Commission has been effectively shuttered for one month for lack of a quorum, so it does not have the legal authority to give him the go ahead.
Montanans advocating for political ad transparency are breathing a sigh of relief now that a federal appeals court has upheld their state's campaign disclosure mandate.
To counteract the unlimited political ad spending allowed by the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, Gov. Steve Bullock pushed the requirement into law in 2015. He has ceaselessly promoted this accomplishment In his long-shot presidential campaign, citing it as evidence he's uniquely positioned in the giant Democratic field to extinguish dark money's influence in Washington.
The Montana law requires nonprofit organizations to register with the state as political committees and file disclosures if they spend $250 or more in the final two months of a campaign on advertising or mailers referring to a candidate, political party or ballot initiative. The educational and social welfare groups known as 501(c)(4)s, which usually evade disclosure requirements and are often behind dark money activity, are covered by the requirement.
The modernization of Montana's voter registration system won't happen in time for next year's elections, because the state's top election administrator has concluded the new software cannot be installed and its security assured in time.
The decision was made by Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, who has something of a vested interest in his decision. He's a leading GOP candidate for the state's singular and reliably Republican seat in the House of Representatives in 2020.
But Stapleton was pressed to make the decision by the association of the state's county clerks, who said the system in place for 15 years was good enough for one more election.