October 4, 2012
District Court Rules Montana Campaign Contribution Limits Unconstitutional
District Judge Charles C. Lovell (Montana) ruled in Lair v. Murry that Montana's low campaign contribution limits for individuals and political parties violated the First Amendment and permanently enjoined the state from enforcing those limits.
The State says that it will seek an emergency stay in the Ninth Circuit. Barring a stay, however, or a quick appeal, the ruling means that Montana's limits on individual and political party contributions are unenforceable--this election cycle, and maybe beyond.
This is the second recent significant defeat for Montana in the area of campaign finance restrictions. Recall that the Supreme Court summarily reversed a Montana Supreme Court ruling upholding the state's restrictions on corporate electioneering expenditures. (The Montana court ruled that Montana's unique history of political corruption justified the restriction, even under Citizens United. The Supreme Court disagreed.)
The restrictions at issue cap individual and political party contributions to candidates at very low levels. For example, Montana Code Section 13-37-216(1)(a) caps contributions at $500 for candidates for governor and lieutenant governor, $250 for candidates for all other state-wide offices, and $130 for candidates to all other offices.
The plaintiffs argued that these limits violated the First Amendment. Judge Lovell agreed. In a very short order, he wrote that "[t]he contribution limits prevent candidates from 'amassing the resources necessary for effective campaign advocacy.'" (Quoting Randall v. Sorrell (2006) (overturning Vermont's low limits on campaign contributions)).
Judge Lovell wrote that he'd later issue findings of fact and conclusions of law in support of his order.
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