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Federal Appeals Court Affirms Montana's Campaign Contribution Limits

Montana can keep its voter enacted campaign contribution limits.  That’s the ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, overturning a judge’s decision.

The ruling brought praise from Governor Steve Bullock, state Attorney General Tim Fox, and Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan.

“It’s a big deal because it upholds Montanans rights to establish limits for campaigns that happen in Montana,” says Mangan. “It doesn’t put that in the hands of lobbyists or corporations or other folks who would say they don’t have control over that. The courts say we do.”

In 1994, Montana voters passed Initiative 118, a campaign reform measure that also set limits on campaign contributions.

The ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Montana's limits on direct contributions are justified in trying to prevent corruption or the appearance of corruption while still allowing both challengers and incumbents to raise enough money to run a campaign.

Bullock says the ruling in Lair v. Motl is a landmark campaign finance case, just like a predecessor Lair v. Bullock.

“This lawsuit, brought by the same attorney responsible for Citizens United, sought to open the floodgates of money in Montana elections by making it easier for out-of-state corporations to buy officeholders. I’m glad the federal courts upheld Montana’s limits on money in elections,” said Bullock in a press release. “For a century in Montana, winning an election for state office has meant going door to door and meeting face to face with everyday voters: democracy at its best. Today, we’re one step closer to keeping it that way. Elections should be decided by ‘we the people’ – not by corporations, millionaires, or wealthy special interests buying more television ads.”

Monday’s ruling overturned a decision by U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell, who said the limits violated political speech rights.

The 9th Circuit decision notes would-be contributors are still free to volunteer their services, make donations to a candidate's political party, send out direct mail or run other independent advertising.

The appeals panel also said that while the donation limits seem low, they are quite reasonable compared to the cost of campaigning in Montana.