The long knives are out for Montana Governor Steve Bullock. He’s only officially been in the 2020 presidential race for a couple of weeks but he’s being attacked as though he is a real threat to the front-runners.
Steve Bullock is polling at 0.2% in the most recent Real Clear Politics chart of all 24 of the Democrats trying to win their party’s nomination as the candidate to take on Donald Trump in 2020. No one outside of the State of Montana knows him. So why the sudden articles claiming that he benefitted from shady dark money, as well as ethics complaints? It may be because there is hope from moderate Democrats that Bullock offers an alternative to the Socialist wing of the party. It also helps that he’s younger than Joe Biden. Some Democrats look to Bullock to actually pull off crossover appeal with Independents and disgruntled Republicans.
Bullock, you may remember, suffered a humiliating moment when he announced to the press that he was tossing his hat in the ring. Asked to name his greatest achievement as Governor of Montana, he was at a loss to come up with an answer. He fancies himself a fighter of dark money in politics, most notably trying to overturn Citizens United v. FEC when he was the state Attorney General. He even appeared in a PBS documentary, thanks to his losing battle against Citizens United. The irony with the documentary, though, is that the funding for it came from liberal advocacy groups. In other words, the documentary complaining about conservative advocacy groups and their influence in politics via political donations was paid for by liberal advocacy groups. Pot/kettle, much?
Nonetheless, Bullock persisted. As Governor, in 2014 he signed into law Montana Senate Bill 289 which requires so-called dark money groups to disclose how they spend money in state elections. He also issued an executive order in 2018 and he railed against the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME.
In 2018, Bullock issued an executive order requiring state government contractors to disclose the previous two years’ political contributions and donations to “dark money” groups when submitting bids for contracts over $25,000 for services and $50,000 for goods. This accounts for roughly 500-600 contracts a year in the state.
Besides undermining Citizens United, Governor Bullock’s campaign finance maneuvers as governor reveal a one-sided concern about money in politics aimed at corporations and social welfare groups. At no point has Bullock raised the issue of labor unions using their deep pockets to influence politics. In fact, after the Supreme Court issued its decision in Janus v. AFSCME, the Montana governor took to Twitter to issue his own dissent in the case.I
So, he has exhibited some standard political hypocrisy when it comes to money in politics. He is beholden to special interest groups like unions.
According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics (based in Montana!), some of Governor Bullock’s top donors over the years include the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Treasure State Pac (affiliated with Democratic Sen. Jon Tester), the Montana Education Association-Montana Federation of Teachers, the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union, the American Federation of Teachers, and the National Education Association.
Furthermore, Bullock Chaired the Democratic Governors Association in 2015. The association exists to elect Democratic governors and regularly receives donations from major labor unions, as well as the disclosure-adverse 501(c)(4) “dark money” group, the Sixteen Thirty Fund. That’s not the only connection Bullock has to the Democratic Governors Association.
Wednesday an article was published that described a #MeToo situation in the governor’s office. This is particularly interesting because Bullock is fond of presenting himself as a family man. His wife and children appear in campaign ads. The claim resulted from an event in 2015 when Montana’s Lt. Governor Angela McLean abruptly resigned and Gov. Bullock was unable to give a good reason for her departure. He insisted that she had not been forced out of office but that appears to have been a lie. Bullock would only say “There’s something else there.”
The “something else” turns out to be a hostile workplace – Governor Bullock’s office. It’s an alleged case of sexual-favoritism. Remember, he’s supposed to be a solid family man.
Bullock’s office has long been beset with sexual favoritism. Take, for example, Meg O’Leary, Bullock’s former Director of Commerce. Flight logs for the governor’s plane (h/t to KGVO radio in Missoula) show that the Governor treated O’Leary, a fellow graduate of Helena High School, as more than just another cabinet officer. Of Bullock’s cabinet officers, O’Leary was by far the plane’s most frequent flier, racking up 56 flights – nearly three times as many as the next highest cabinet officer.
Two flights particularly raised eyebrows. One occurred during a Paul McCartney concert held at the University of Montana in Missoula in August 2014. The University’s president invited Bullock to the concert and the original names on the box seats were for Bullock and Montana’s First Lady. But it was Bullock and O’Leary who attended – and they got there via the state plane. Jon King, a reporter for KGVO, asked Bullock’s office to explain why O’Leary was on the taxpayer-financed flight but received no response.
Another involved an early morning flight to Missoula by Bullock and O’Leary on April 29, 2015. Two days later, the two were spotted at the Kentucky Derby.
Representative Brad Tschida (R-Missoula), the majority leader of the Montana House of Representatives filed an ethics complaint against Bullock and O’Leary. Bullock’s commissioner of political practices tried to suppress the complaint. A legal battle ensued as Tschida gave Montana legislators copies of the complaint and the commissioner threatened legal action. Tschida sued in federal court to protect his First Amendment rights. The Ninth Circuit ruled that Tschida did, in fact, have the right to provide the copies of the complaint against Bullock and O’Leary to his fellow Montana legislators.
That brings us back to former Lt. Gov. McLean. She reportedly walked in on Governor Bullock groping a female state official, sitting on his lap, after an office gathering at a steakhouse in 2014. McLean confronted the governor about it but Bullock brushed her off. That is when the office-wide shunning began. By May 2015 McLean was told that Bullock was considering a different running mate in his bid for re-election. She resigned in November 2015.
Will this pique the interest of Democrat women? If Bullock somehow manages to catch on in the primary race and gain some support, it may. Or, it may be like the Democrats in leadership in Virginia who are given a pass on their bad behavior. The double standard between Democrats and Republicans is strong.