The Helena Independent Record recently published an article by Holly K. Michels headlined “In Montana’s US Senate race, expect the gloves to come off and the money to flow.” Ignoring the fact that the gloves already were off during the primary, the report was notable because it quoted several longtime Montanans who were drinking coffee together in a Townsend cafe. They complained about political advertising and survey phone calls, and said they were pretty much done with a campaign season that’s barely begun. And they said they are disillusioned by the massive amount of money in politics. “It’s a rich man’s game,” Curtis Spatzierats was quoted as saying. “A person that’s not rich can’t run for office.”

Actually, a person of  average income can, and does, run for office. But his/her success in getting elected usually boils down to being a successful fund raiser. Whether from political action committees or wealthy donors who support an agenda, donations drive politics. Wealthy candidates just have the extra benefit of their own funds to help pave the way.

How critical it is, then, to follow the money in politics. It’s amazing what you can learn. For example, Sen. Jon Tester touts his Montana roots as putting him more in touch with his constituents. Yet, more than 80% of his campaign money has come from outside the state – from Californians, New Yorkers, and donors inside Washington, D.C. So far, his opponent, Matt Rosendale (who has been criticized as being an outsider, having lived in Montana only 16 years), has raised more than 60% of his donations from out-of-state – Texans, Floridians, Californians.

So the campaign rhetoric about who is a truer Montanan sort of masks other important things, like the candidates’ positions on issues, past voting records, and party-neutral actions that help us, as voters, make choices based on fact … and on the integrity of the candidates themselves.

Knowing candidates’ fund raising sources is clearly not the only or best way to cut through the rhetoric. Another way is to make it our personal responsibility to learn about the candidates’ positions from impartial sources. Click here for several reliable and trusted resources. It takes a little time, but as Marni Edmiston, another cafe coffee drinker, noted:

“If you want to participate in democracy you have to be informed, and to be informed you actually have to do the hard work of critically thinking and listening.