A lawsuit filed by an Illinois-based conservative advocacy group over one of Gov. Steve Bullock's hallmark messages on dark money in elections has been dismissed. However, the judge did give the group the chance to re-file.
In August, Illinois Opportunity Project filed the lawsuit in U.S. federal court in Helena objecting to a June 2018 executive order from Bullock. The order said to receive a state contract, an organization must report its political contributions.
The order extends to so-called social welfare nonprofit organizations like Illinois Opportunity Project that, under campaign finance laws, do not have to disclose their donors. It applies to organizations that have spent more than $2,500 over the past two-year cycle and is for contracts of more than $50,000 for goods or $25,000 for services.
Illinois Opportunity Project said in the August lawsuit it planned to spend money in Montana in the 2020 elections to urge candidates for governor to unravel Bullock's executive order if they are elected. Bullock cannot run again due to term limits and ran for president for six months in 2019 before dropping out of the race in December.
In the order dismissing the case, Judge Charles C. Lovell wrote Illinois Opportunity Project could not prove it had been harmed by the executive order because it did not say current or potential donors refused to contribute money because they would be named.
Lovell gave Illinois Opportunity Project until Jan. 21 to file an amended complaint.
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Daniel Suhr, an attorney at the Liberty Justice Center, said Illinois Opportunity Project is determining how it will proceed.
"Today the judge invited us to amend and refile our lawsuit by Jan 21. We are reviewing the judge's order to determine what our next steps will be," Suhr said. "Privacy is a fundamental constitutional right, and every American has the right to support causes they believe in without fear of being outed, shamed, harassed or intimidated. Our next step in this case will be based on protecting that principle."
Bullock released a statement Thursday after Lovell's order, saying the decisions was "another chapter in Montana’s proud, successful history of standing up to out-of-state dark money groups that want to buy our elections.
"Montanans have long refused to let secret and special interests interfere in our elections — and as I always have, I’ll keep fighting to make sure it stays that way," Bullock said.