Group Asks Judge to Toss Campaign Finance Ruling

first_img Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup. Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox. Email HELENA – The attorney for a group seeking a complete overhaul of Montana’s campaign finance laws asked a judge Wednesday to rule that it is unconstitutional for the state to penalize it for not reporting its expenditures.The hearing in Helena district court was part of an ongoing legal battle taking place in both the state and federal court systems between Montana officials and Virginia-based American Tradition Partnership. At least three separate court cases are involved, all of which could have a profound effect on the state’s campaign finance law, and in this particular case, whether certain third parties pouring money into elections need to file disclosure statements.Montana’s commissioner of political practices, who oversees campaign finance laws, ruled last year that the group, then called Western Tradition Partnership, was required to report its expenditures because of the money it spent on flyers attacking political candidates.Former Commissioner Dennis Unsworth found that third-party groups need to disclose money spent advocating for the election or defeat of candidates because when they do so, they are acting like political committees subject to regulation.The group filed a lawsuit challenging the ruling, saying it should not be considered a political committee. James Brown, an attorney for the group, told District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock that it was engaging in free speech protected by the First Amendment and that the Montana laws governing campaign expenditures unconstitutionally restricts that speech.“My clients didn’t ask for this. Basically, they were hauled before a political body for engaging in speech and political association,” Brown said.Montana Department of Justice attorney Andrew Huff said the commissioner of political practice’s investigation into Western Tradition Partnership’s involvement in the 2008 general election showed the group spent $200,000 and sent tens of thousands of glossy mailers and flyers to voters.Those flyers showed the group is not an educational organization, as they assert, but an advocacy group trying to persuade people to vote for or against certain candidates without having to disclose where its money comes from or how it’s spending it.“These mailers were not educational. They were for the express purpose of telling voters how to vote,” Huff said.Montana’s campaign finance laws are sound, even in the wake of last year’s Citizen United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on corporate spending, Huff said.Brown asked Sherlock to rule on the constitutionality of the campaign finance law without going to trial. Sherlock did not make an immediate ruling.Besides its challenge of the commissioner’s ruling, Western Tradition Partnership also was the plaintiff in a lawsuit last year decided by Sherlock that tossed out the state’s restriction on corporate political spending. The state attorney general’s office has appealed that case to the state Supreme Court.The group also filed a separate lawsuit in U.S. District Court that seeks to throw out Montana’s limits on the amount that individuals, political action committees, political parties and others can contribute in elections, saying the limits restrict free speech.last_img read more

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