Another Longstanding Montana Campaign Funding Law Struck Down
For decades, even a century, the state of Montana has prided itself on its blocking of big money influencing elections. But in less than four months courts have swept away generations of legal protection…once, twice and now three times.
Montana’s Corrupt Practices Act of 1912 prohibited corporations from contributing to political candidates and committees. But in June the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to declare the century-old law unconstitutional. Then in September, a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to overturn the state’s 77-year-old law prohibiting political parties from supporting judicial candidates.
Now, pro-business lobbyists have won yet another legal battle in Montana, this time getting the state’s limits on campaign contributions thrown out. The limitations were originally imposed after Montana voters, in 1994, passed Initiative 118.
U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1985, agreed with conservative activists, corporations, and Republican groups that argued that the campaign contribution limits prevented candidates from collecting enough money to run effective campaigns.
The law restricted individual contributions to the governor’s race to $630 and contributions to a state legislative candidate to $160, although the amounts were adjusted for inflation after each election cycle. The law also limited the total amount political parties could contribute to a campaign—for example $22,600 for a gubernatorial candidate.
With less than a month before Election Day, deep-pocketed interests can now spend unlimited amounts of money on campaigns—unless the state is successful in filing an emergency stay with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that would block Lovell’s decision until it is reviewed.
Attorney General Steve Bullock blasted the ruling and promised to fight the decision.
“This is a destructive ruling for Montana’s citizen democracy, and disturbing for those of us who believe that democracy is not for sale and politics is about values and issues, not money,” Bullock said in a statement. “In declaring our campaign contribution limits unconstitutional, a federal judge has effectively put Montana’s elections up for auction to the highest bidder.”
-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky
To Learn More:
Judge Tosses Montana Campaign Finance Limits (by Matt Gouras, Associated Press)
Federal Court Strikes Down Many Montana Contribution Limits, Says Explanation Coming Later (by Rick Hasen, Election Law Blog)
Doug Lair et al. v. James Murry (U.S. District Court, Montana) (pdf)
Republicans Successfully Attack 77-Year-Old Montana Law Banning Party Endorsements of Judicial Candidates (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)
Supreme Court, 5-4, Cancels Montana’s 100-Year-Old Election Financing Law (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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