US Judge Strikes Down Montana Political Committee Naming Law

Law aimed to prevent PACs from misleading the public about economic and special interests

By Associated Press

HELENA — A U.S. judge has struck down a Montana law that sets truth in naming requirements for political action committees, saying campaign finance reports provide adequate information about people who contribute to a PAC.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen came last week in an appeal filed by a political action committee called Doctors for a Healthy Montana, the Great Falls Tribune reported.

The organization formed in February with the goal of defeating in the primaries Republican legislators who voted in favor of the Medicaid expansion bill in 2019, court records said. The committee targeted state Rep. Joel Krautter, R-Sidney, and put up a billboard in his hometown that said he “voted for taxpayer-funded abortions.”

Krautter filed a complaint with the commissioner of political practices arguing that Doctors for a Healthy Montana was a misleading name because a majority of its donors were members of the Legislature, not physicians.

Commissioner Jeff Mangan agreed with Krautter.

Doctors for a Healthy Montana appealed, arguing the 35-year-old law was an unconstitutional violation of the group’s free speech rights.

The law, which passed unanimously in 1985, was designed to prevent political action committees from misleading the public about their economic and special interests, court records said.

During the 2019 Legislature, Mangan testified in favor of a bill to repeal the naming law, saying it was difficult to enforce and obsolete because there are other ways to identify who donates money to political committees. The bill failed on its third reading in the House.

Information about donors is widely available to the public and the press on Montana’s Campaign Electronic Reporting System and is widely used, Christensen wrote in his Aug. 12 ruling.

“Of course, the Court does not condone the practice of misleading voters through committee names,” Christensen wrote. “However, the challenged statute is not a reasonable solution to the problem.”

The attorney general’s office is reviewing the ruling and considering its next steps, spokesperson Anastasia Burton said Tuesday. Mangan did not return an email seeking comment.

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