Judge Rules Campaign Disclosure Law Constitutional

By Beacon Staff

HELENA — A federal judge ruled Tuesday that Montana’s requirement that political committees disclose their campaign spending is constitutional.

U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen sided with the state in a new decision, and dismissed a case brought last year by the National Association for Gun Rights.

He wrote that the public’s right to know who is financing political campaigns vastly outweighs the minimal burden imposed on committees required to report the information.

The Virginia nonprofit organization originally argued it wanted to send political mailings on gun issues without registering as a political committee. The organization said it advances the “God-given right” to keep and bear arms.

It argued, with the October court filing, that it wanted to spend $20,000 to send postcards criticizing Steve Bullock’s record on gun rights when he was running for governor, an office he ultimately won. And it expects to send similar mailings in the 2014 and 2016 election cycles.

It argued the requirement to file paperwork was an unconstitutional restriction of speech and unconstitutionally overbroad.

The judge rejected the argument and sided with the attorney general office’s request to dismiss the case.

“It goes without saying that Montana voters are interested in who is financing political campaigns,” the judge wrote. “The reporting and disclosure requirements for incidental committees are necessary for defendants to regulate groups and candidates’ compliance with Montana’s election laws.”

Several of Montana’s campaign finance laws have come under legal attack in recent years from conservative groups who argue they unconstitutionally restrict campaigning.

In one ongoing case, a federal appeals court is looking at the state’s limits on campaign contributions.

And in another, a state district judge is looking at fines requested by the state of more than $300,000 against American Tradition Partnership for failing to abide by state campaign finance law.

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