As former mayors of Missoula (Kemmis 1990-1996; Kadas 1996-2006) and long-time citizens of our community, we were both appalled to learn that the National Association of Realtors had injected a $125,000 contribution into this year’s election to select Missoula’s next mayor.
This money is being funneled through an entity called an Independent Expenditure Campaign which was created by the Missoula Organization of Realtors who have contributed an additional $10,000. This Independent Expenditure Campaign is for the benefit of candidate Mike Nugent.
Historically city elections have been almost entirely local affairs. They have been largely funded by local residents (with some occasional out-of-town support from family, friends or colleagues). There has also sometimes been limited interest group participation, but those groups have always been local, or at most statewide, and their contributions have been on a scale that has never threatened to overwhelm the preponderance of local, individual contributions.
None of this is true of the National Association of Realtors’ investment.
Its contributions come from all over the country and are largely anonymous. The NAR “initial” contribution is for $125,000, more than twice as much as the approximately $60,000 that their beneficiary, Nugent, has raised for his own campaign.. Current Mayor Jordan Hess, meanwhile, has raised about $40,000 and Andrea Davis about $20,000.
We are concerned about a) the non-local (and indeed national) nature of the contribution; b) the size of the contribution; and c) the long-term cloud of who would be influencing Nugent on crucial growth and land-use issues if he were to win the election.
This is a whole new level of intrusion into the local electoral process and it is an extremely dangerous precedent. The real problem, of course, is the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision, which opened the sluicegate to floods of this kind of money. Until we can return to sensible campaign finance rules, however, the best way for a community like Missoula to respond is to not support candidates who benefit from this type of large, outside, special interest contribution.
Daniel Kemmis served as Mayor of Missoula from 1990 to 1996 after serving four terms in the Montana House of Representatives; he is the author of “Citizens Uniting to Restore Our Democracy.” Mike Kadas served as Mayor of Missoula from 1996 to 2006; he also served seven terms in the Montana House of Representatives.