Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Steve Bullock Vows To Disentangle 'Dark Money' From Politics

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a late entry to the 2020 race, hopes his red-state credentials will help him connect with voters.
Claire Harbage
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a late entry to the 2020 race, hopes his red-state credentials will help him connect with voters.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock entered the Democratic primary in May, months after many of his competitors. He has an excuse.

"I had a job to do," Bullock told NPR, explaining that the Montana Legislature, which only meets for up to 90 days every other year, wasin session until the end of April. "If I had to choose between saving health care for 400,000 folks or chasing 100,000 donors? Easiest decision I'd ever make."

But now he's in. The two-term governor and chair of the National Governors Association touts his credentials as the only candidate to win in 2016 in a state that President Trump also won. He has raised about $2 million and may qualify for the upcoming July debates after missing June's.

Central to Bullock's campaign is the promise to do away with "dark money" — political money that can't be traced to its source. Before he was elected governor, Bullock served as Montana's attorney general and challenged the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision.

Bullock told NPR's Noel King that on Day 1 he would sign an executive order mandating campaign spending disclosures from federal contractors.

"Adding that sunshine and transparency will make a difference," he said.

Interview Highlights

On why he chose to center his campaign on dark money

You could walk down the street, and people don't care necessarily about the money in the system, but they do care that Washington, D.C., doesn't work for them. I mean, we pay more for prescription drugs than any country in the world. We have nothing to show for it ...

Whoever cleans this studio tonight will pay more [in taxes] than 60 of the Fortune 500 companies. So if the system is rigged because of the influence of money, that's when folks turn around and say, "This economy is not working for me, the political system is not working for me" — so let's just blow up the system. I've never in 10 years of public office had somebody come up to me and say, "Oh! There's not enough spending in our elections."

On his plan to limit dark money contributions

Day 1, I'd sign an executive order that says if you want to contract with the federal government — I can't tell you that you can't spend or donate, but you have to disclose every single dollar that you are either spending or donating to influence our elections. Think about it. The federal government contracts with dang near every company in the country. Adding that sunshine and transparency will make a difference.

On breaking gridlock and reaching rural voters

Look, I'm not naive about the challenge, but certainly I tried to build relationships with Republican legislators in my statehouse. But I don't rely on those relationships alone. I go out all across our state. When we got Medicaid expansion through, I probably did 20 community meetings in rural Republican areas that were at risk of losing their hospital.

So I think that the next president has to make their case, not just in Washington D.C., but to America. So I'd spend as much time in Kentucky as I am here because if you actually get voters saying, "We expect more of our elected officials," that's how I think things get moved.

On reversing his position on assault weapons

We had a March for our Lives in Helena, in Montana. ... I went with my children. And I listened. And as these kids are saying enough, too, that's where I finally said enough with the assault weapons, because I know as a gun owner — and 40% of households in America have firearms in them — I know it's not for hunting. I know it's not for self-defense. Even industry is stopping this. When I was growing up the National Rifle Association was gun safety and hunting organization. Now it's nothing more than to try to divide people.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.