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Campaign finance initiative expected to qualify for Montana ballot

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HELENA – As ballot measure sponsors prepare to turn in their signatures Friday, perhaps only one of proposals will likely qualify for the November election, with one still up in the air.

A campaign finance measure is expected to qualify, but proposals to legalize marijuana for adults and to let a person accused of a crime to argue the merits of the law to the jury won’t make the ballot, backers said. It was unclear Thursday whether a so-called “personhood” measure, which would essentially ban abortion, will qualify.

Backers were confident Thursday they had enough signatures to qualify Initiative 166. It is a policy statement saying that corporations aren’t human beings with constitutional rights and that money isn’t speech.

It is a nonbinding measure telling Montana’s congressional delegation to support a federal constitutional amendment to nullify the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case that removed restrictions on political speech for corporations and unions.

C.B. Pearson, treasurer of the group behind I-166, said it submitted more than 40,000 signatures before the deadline.

“Montanans want clean and fair elections and don’t want corporations to use their checkbook to buy our elections,” he said. “For nearly a century, Montana had elections free of corporate money. But now our fair elections system is under attack.“

To qualify a statutory initiative for the ballot, backers must gather the signatures of at least 24,337 voters, including 5 percent of the voters in 34 of the 100 state House districts.

It’s too early to know if Constitutional Initiative 108, the so-called “personhood” amendment will qualify. It would amend the constitution’s due process section to define “person” to include “all human beings at every stage of development,” including fertilization or conception, thus outlawing abortion.

Annie Bukacek, the Kalispell physician who is president of the Montana ProLife Coalition, was uncertain how many signatures the group had gathered.

“Unlike between petition drives where volunteers and organizers are paid, Montana ProLife Coalition is a grassroots organization with 100 percent unpaid volunteers scattered across the broad expanse of Montana,” she said. “Under these circumstances, it is impossible to wager a guess.“

However, she said the group turned in more than 6,000 signatures alone in Flathead County, where she lives.

To qualify a constitutional amendment for the ballot, backers need the signatures of 48,674 registered voters, including 10 percent of the voters in 40 of the 100 state House districts.

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Backers of CI-110 said they don’t have enough signatures to put the marijuana measure on the ballot.

It would establish a right for adults to “responsibly purchase, consume, produce and possess marijuana, subject to reasonable limitations, regulations and taxation.“

Lindsey Pawluk, senior Republican strategist for Montana First, the group advocating for CI-110, said, “It’s not looking like we’re going to (qualify), but we have redirected our efforts to LR-124.“

That’s the referendum this fall on whether to retain or reject the 2011 law that greatly restricted access to medical marijuana in the state.

The measure’s sponsor, Barb Trego of East Helena, said she’s “hopeful but realistic.“

Pawluk attributed the failure to get enough signatures on a lack of time rather than a lack of voter interest.

Roger Roots of Livingston said he didn’t get enough signatures to put CI-107 on the ballot. It would empower someone accused of a crime to argue to the jury “the propriety, applicability and merits of the law” the person is accused of violating.

“We need about 50,000 signatures,” he said. “We’ve got a couple of thousand. We’re going to retool and try a future cycle.“

The sponsor of proposed CI-109, aimed at protecting voter-passed laws from amendment or repeal, couldn’t be reached.

It would allow the Legislature to repeal or amend laws passed by initiative only if the original law provided for that or if voters get to vote on the repeal or any amendments.

Missoulian State Bureau reporter Charles S. Johnson can be reached at (406) 447-4066 or at chuck.johnson@lee.net.

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