Appeals court reinstates Montana campaign finance limits

2012-10-11T05:30:00Z 2013-01-29T20:45:18Z Appeals court reinstates Montana campaign finance limitsThe Associated Press The Associated Press
October 11, 2012 5:30 am  • 

HELENA – The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated Montana’s campaign donation limits, telling the federal judge who struck down the limits that the panel needs to see his full reasoning so it can review the case.

The court intervened late Tuesday less than a week after the judge’s decision opened the door to unlimited money in state elections – during the height of election season.

In response, U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell issued a 38-page conclusion Wednesday morning that reinforced his earlier decision finding that the state’s limits are too low to allow effective campaigning. He suggested the state Legislature would have a “clean canvas” to perhaps establish new, higher limits that could meet constitutional muster.

The 9th Circuit did not immediately respond, leaving the state limits in place – for the time being. The legal back and forth came with less than a month until Election Day.

Montana limits range from $630 for an individual contributing to a governor’s race to $160 for a state House candidate. The amounts are adjusted each election cycle to account for inflation. The law also limited aggregate donations from political parties.

Conservative groups emboldened by the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision have made Montana the center of the fight over many campaign finance restrictions.

The groups have convinced a federal judge to strike down several laws as unconstitutional, including the cap on contributions given to candidates by individuals and political parties.

Over the past week, Montana election officials had urged candidates to abide by the old limits. But attorneys for conservative and Republican groups advised candidates they could take unlimited money during that window.

Some candidates said they would abide by the old limits, while others considered the idea of taking larger donations. The effect won’t be known until disclosure reports are filed later with the state Commissioner of Political Practices.

The disclosure of donations is still required, although state officials worry that conservative groups will next attack that aspect of campaign finance law.

Lovell said in his complete Wednesday order that his decision was not about the policy of having unlimited donations in an election’s closing weeks.

“Much has been made of whether striking Montana’s contribution limits is good policy and good for Montana voters. This case, though, is not about policy. It is about following the law that the United States Supreme Court set out,” Lovell wrote.

The Montana attorney general’s office did not immediately comment.

One of the attorneys working for the Washington, D.C.-based American Tradition Partnership, a group at the center of several Montana cases, said they hope the appeals court will lift its stay in the wake of Lovell’s full decision.

The attorney general’s office argues that American Tradition Partnership is a shadowy front group that is illegally trying to conceal its political spending, perhaps with money received from foreign corporations. The state is seeking sanctions against the conservative group in a separate court case.

Montana has seen many of its laws struck down in the wake of the Citizens United decision that opened the door for more corporate spending in federal races, citing freedom of speech issues.

Last month, a federal appeals court struck down Montana’s ban on partisan endorsements of judicial candidates, citing Citizens United.

Lovell earlier this year ruled as unconstitutional laws requiring attack ads to disclose voting records and a ban on knowingly false statements in such ads.

The Supreme Court also tossed the state’s century-old, voter-approved ban on independent corporate political spending in state races.

That decision prompted a new ballot initiative that, if approved in November by voters, asks state leaders to seek a constitutional amendment undermining the high court’s decision.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(8) Comments

  1. JSRMinMissoula
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    JSRMinMissoula - October 11, 2012 9:28 am
    I remember watching a program on television that was discussing whether or not money(campaign contributions)=free speech. I found it quite amusing when a Senator from the South, who I believe happened to be a Republican posed this very simple question, "If money equates to free speech and I have a million dollars and you have a hundred dollars, we both have the same amount of free speech, right?"
  2. MTminded
    Report Abuse
    MTminded - October 11, 2012 5:32 am
    "[T]he state’s limits are too low to allow effective campaigning" begs two questions. What monetary amount is enough? and, what is effective campaigning?

    I don't think either question can be sufficiently answered, therefore current campaign limits are about right.
  3. montanamuralist
    Report Abuse
    montanamuralist - October 10, 2012 4:27 pm
    You never address the issue though. You think it is ok for politicians to have unlimited dollars coming in from outside the state ? Corrupt? How about taking care of the land? And create jobs. That is all most of us are asking for. When the oil company can come on my property and tear down trees and tear up my land because their pipeline can run through my property with out me being compensated??? That is corrupt. Making a profit on my back and then still charging me $4 a gallon at the pump? For the public good? No, it is for the oil companies good. I am not in to paying them twice thank you. That is corrupt and that needs to be fixed. The stupid part about this state is that a majority of the people here vote people in to office that let them get away with this...
  4. wes d
    Report Abuse
    wes d - October 10, 2012 3:54 pm
    Hey "idiot state"; If you hate this state so much, MOVE!!! Go somewhere like Alabama or Arkansas where the Bible belt and Corporations have absolute power. It's beside me how you can think corporations should be able to buy elections!!! You're going against common sense and a 100 yr old Montana law! You Republicans disgust me.
  5. idiot state
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    idiot state - October 10, 2012 2:45 pm
    Chalk one up for Montana's Chicago style corrupt BIG LABOR UNION politics-and the Democrats in their pockets. But THE NINTH CIRCUIT is overturned the majority of the time, and an appeal to the Supreme Court can undo this damage-will it be in time? STEVE BULLOCK must be dancing in the streets; up til the Citizens case the labor unions had the run of the state, and looks like they might get it again-for the moment. Montana, you're corrupt, backward, an economic idiot, and the lowest producing state in the region. Keep electing corrupt politicians, and you'll keep that bottom of the totem pole position indefinitely-
  6. montanamuralist
    Report Abuse
    montanamuralist - October 10, 2012 1:08 pm
    They are going to buy elections one way or the other since the US Supreme Court said it not constitutional to restrict free speech. The flaw is in their definition of free speech. Basically Republicans are saying if they have the money to spend and they are smart enough to make that money, than they should get to buy whatever they want. Including elections. We all know that means preserving their interests which is usually not the interests of the majority of people who struggle along on middle and lower incomes in this state. So yes, the Republicans will be mad but it is the reason I am voting for Tester, everything else is moot. he supports full disclosure. Rehberg does not. That simple. I am for the honest guy who is not trying to buy elections....except for this one because you have to fight fire with fire...so shut up righties..we are using the same tactics you are? Isn't that free speech??? Oh no, I forgot..only free speech if it is your speech...hypocrites!!!
  7. cojoel
    Report Abuse
    cojoel - October 10, 2012 10:54 am
    "That decision prompted a new ballot initiative that, if approved in November."
    What will happen in November if the new ballot initiative is approved?
  8. wes d
    Report Abuse
    wes d - October 10, 2012 10:35 am
    Man are Republicans going to be mad that they can't buy elections! Yes, I know Tester has received a lot of out of state money as well. However, to me it seems the majority of Dems are against unlimited campaign finance while most Republicans are for it. It's dishonest.
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