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Appeals Court Upholds Montana's Campaign Contribution Limits

Campaign funds graphic
A federal appeals court ruled Monday that Montana’s campaign contribution limits set in 1994 are constitutional, overturning a previous decision that found the limits violated political free speech.";

A federal appeals court ruled Monday that Montana’s campaign contribution limits set in 1994 are constitutional, overturning a previous decision that found the limits violated political free speech.

The Ninth Circuit Court ruled that the Constitution allows campaign contribution limits to prevent actual or apparent quid pro quo corruption in politics.

In May of 2016, a district court struck down Montana’s voter approved contribution limits less than a month before state primary elections. That ruling turned back state law on contribution limits to previously allowed higher limits. That old limit was a $330 cap on giving to local election candidates, according to Jaime MacNaughton, chief legal counsel for the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices.

She says the appellate court's decision reinstates Montana’s lower cap on individual giving at $170 for candidates in local elections.

"So, we are not going to go back and ask people to refund money. We're going to say if you received a contribution before yesterday, that that is fine. But going forward any contribution you receive must be $170 or under."

MacNaughton says if this decision had gone the other way, it could have set precedent that could topple contribution limits in states across the country. 

James Bopp, an Indiana-based attorney who argued against Montana’s contribution limits on behalf of several national political action committees and former Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Hill,  did not return Montana Public Radio’s call seeking a comment on this story.

Both Montana’s Republican Attorney General Tim Fox and Democratic Governor Steve Bullock applauded today’s ruling.

"Today’s ruling is a win for democracy in Montana," a Fox press release said. "The voters of Montana approved the current contribution limits, and I’m proud of the hard work my team put in to defend the will of the people."

Governor Bullock defended the campaign contribution limits when he was Montana’s attorney general in 2011. In a statement issued today, Bullock said, "I’m glad the federal courts upheld Montana’s limits on money in elections,. Elections should be decided by 'we the people' – not by corporations, millionaires, or wealthy special interests buying more television ads."

To see the full decision by the Ninth Circuit, visit: https://dojmt.gov/wp-content/uploads/Lair-Opinion.pdf
 

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