Federal Court Strikes Down Three Montana “Clean” Election Laws

United States District Court for the District of Montana Judge Charles Lovell yesterday struck down three state laws that violated First Amendment rights to political speech: a ban on corporate donations to independent expenditure PACs; a political-civil libel statute; and a vote reporting disclaimer requirement.

“This ruling is a solid win for the First Amendment,” said Center for Competitive Politics president David Keating.  “Montana politicians sought to censor criticisms of their records by making it illegal to ‘misrepresent a candidate’s public voting record.’  The Court sensibly ruled that the law was unconstitutionally vague.

“The vote reporting disclaimer requirement was both burdensome and vague, and the Court quoted the Buckley v. Valeo decision in ruling that law ‘fails to clearly mark the boundary between permissible and impermissible speech.’”

The judge did not address the disclaimer’s burdens because “the Court need not address the remaining bases upon which the statute might be unconstitutional.”

The judge upheld a ban on corporate donations to candidate campaign committees.  Other portions of the lawsuit will be decided later, including a challenge to Montana’s low contribution limits to candidates and parties.  The lawsuit was filed by American Tradition Partnership, and is known as Lair et al v. Murray et al.  A copy of the ruling is available on our website.