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Federal courts asked to take up Montana donation limit cases

2012-10-19T18:29:00Z 2012-10-24T14:12:04Z Federal courts asked to take up Montana donation limit casesBy CHARLES S. JOHNSON IR State Bureau Helena Independent Record
October 19, 2012 6:29 pm  • 

Federal courts are being asked to decide whether Montana’s contribution limits for political candidates should be struck down in the closing days of this campaign and whether Republican governor candidate Rick Hill can keep a disputed $500,000 donation.

American Tradition Partnership and other conservative groups, individuals and businesses on Thursday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene and overturn Montana’s contribution limits before the Nov. 6 election. Donors should be able to “exercise their First Amendment rights” and give however much they want to candidates, the legal document said.

In a petition to Justice Anthony Kennedy, they asked the court to strike down the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Oct. 9 ruling that stayed the decision Oct. 3 by U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell of Helena that struck down Montana’s contribution limits as unconstitutional. As a result, Montana’s limits are back in place.

It was during that six-day period where the limits were not in effect that the Montana Republican Party donated $500,000 to Hill. The limits allow a political party to give a candidate only $22,600 during an election, and the GOP had already donated that much to Hill.

In a development Friday, Hill’s lawyer transferred to U.S. District Court in Helena the lawsuit filed in state District Court Thursday by Hill’s opponent, Attorney General Steve Bullock. In the state lawsuit, Bullock contended that the $500,000 contribution to Hill was illegal and asked the court to order Hill to return it.

Hill argued the donation was legal because it was made during the period after Lovell threw out Montana’s contribution limits and before the federal appeals court restored them.

With the Nov. 6 election less than three weeks away, the flurry of court activity involving contributions is unprecedented in Montana elections, at least over the past 40 years.

This year, a number of long-standing Montana election laws have been overturned by federal courts, citing the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United decision. That ruling removed restrictions and allowed corporations and unions to give money without previous restrictions.

The latest legal actions sparked comments from the governor campaigns and others.

Bullock, whose office will defend the state’s law case if the U.S. Supreme Court accepts it, said he doesn’t believe the petition by American Tradition Partnership will succeed.

“Whoever American Tradition Partnership is, they are trying every angle to dismantle Montana’s campaign laws and throw the doors wide open to enormous sums of anonymous, out-of-state money.” Bullock said. “As attorney general, I will continue the fight to keep our elections clean and fair. “

James Bopp, the Terre Haute, Ind., lawyer representing American Tradition Partnership and others, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the circuit court ruling that stayed Lovell’s decision.

“But most critically, the resulting stay allows the First Amendment speech rights of Montanans to continue to be chilled and burdened during this crucial election season,” Bopp’s application to Kennedy said.

In the other case, Hill’s campaign defended sending the Bullock lawsuit to federal court, while Bullock’s campaign was critical.

“This issue belongs in federal court, because it comes from a federal judge’s decision on which both Democrats and Republicans relied,” said Hill’s campaign manager, Brock Lowrance. “Federal court is the proper place for this case, and that is why we sent it there.”

Matthew Monforton, a Bozeman attorney representing Hill and his campaign, said he filed a “notice of removal” Friday to take the case from state District Court in Helena to the U.S. District Court in Helena.

“Federal law automatically divests state judges of jurisdiction once a notice of removal is filed,” Monforton said. “This matter will be litigated in the federal courts, and we anticipate prevailing because the contributions accepted by the Hill campaign between Oct. 3 and Oct. 9 were federally authorized contributions. Federal law controls this matter.”

The state Republican Party donated $500,000 to Hill’s campaign on Oct. 4.

Bullock’s campaign manager, Kevin O’Brien, said Hill knows the donation was illegal, which is why his campaign moved the case to federal court.

“It’s clear that even Congressman Hill knows this $500,000 contribution was illegal because if he didn’t, he would be proud to defend his actions to a Montana judge, instead of running to a federal court,” O’Brien said.

Also on Friday, the Bullock campaign released a statement from Republican Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger calling on Hill to immediately return the $500,000.

“This is an unprecedented step by Congressman Hill to allow our elections to be corrupted at the average citizen’s expense,” Bohlinger said.

The lieutenant governor, elected with Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer, became the first person to sign an online petition demanding that Hill return the money at this website:

Copyright 2015 Helena Independent Record. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(3) Comments

  1. MTExaminer
    Report Abuse
    MTExaminer - October 20, 2012 1:15 pm
    "Campaign finance reform" means the liberal press and government officials can fend off challengers who cannot afford to take on an incumbent. Since the so-called "reforms" since the 1970's, incumbency is up over 50%. Thank God ATP, which by the way is headed in Montana by Doug Lair of Big Timber, came to Montana to put some sunshine of corrupt and anti-taxpayer officials, and stop the Sierra Club's war on Montana.

    Only you people who think you are smarter than the voters think you should decide how much information they get and from who. You should be ashamed, but liberals are rarely ashamed of anything at all. Bullock is a thug just like Schweitzer, only BS is smarter than SB. And he's going DOWN.
  2. Analicia
    Report Abuse
    Analicia - October 20, 2012 1:22 am
    American Tradition Partnership, in its October 18, 2012, Petition to the U.S. Supreme Court to Vacate the Stay of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals states, "But most critically, the resulting stay allows the First Amendment speech rights of Montanans to continue to be chilled and burdened during this crucial election season."

    How dare an out of state corporation interlope into the domestic affairs of everyday Montanans.

    To vacate this stay would directly cause irreparable and immediate harm to the Montana electorate. The purpose of election laws and regulations is to provide fairness and consistency in the election process. To allow this nefarious corporation to commit such a dastardly deed before the stroke of midnight is to negate the essence of a democracy. An intrinsically inherent attribute of a democracy is the power of the people to choose their representative leaders. The framers understood firsthand the results of despotic tyranny and thus never meant to put the locus of power in the hands of a rich cadre.

    To vacate this stay is to throw out the very structures of our democratic processes, which is the crux of what makes this nation great. To vacate this stay is to say the U.S. is no better than the puppet dictatorships our U.S. soldiers give their lives to overthrow. To vacate this stay is to laugh sarcastically in the face of citizens who have given of their limited means to support their candidate(s) of choice in this long-drawn out electoral season. To vacate this stay is to time travel to an earlier time, a century ago, when copper barons could shell out monies to buy their seats of power. Finally, to vacate this stay is to say to every Joe, Jack, Geraldo, Mordecai, Omar, and Juanita that the ideals you were taught in U.S. schools are a sham.
  3. lampropeltis
    Report Abuse
    lampropeltis - October 19, 2012 10:28 pm
    Long ago the people of Montana witnessed unprecedented corruption in our political system and passed the very anti-corruption laws now being contested.

    Campaign finance reform is the biggest issue of our time. We have a choice between policy crafted to benefit the wealthy donors or policy crafted to benefit the most common majority of our citizens. We're headed in the wrong direction and the republican party together with their out of state special interests are the driving force.

    Is there no courage from republicans to resist this regression?

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