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Our View: Look out, another awful Montana campaign finance ruling

In another — and perhaps the worst — federal court decision on campaign finances in Montana, a federal court has ruled Montana limits on campaign contributions are unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell ruled that the strict limits in Montana law make it hard for candidates to amass enough money to run effective campaigns.

Oh, the poor candidates. Watch TV any day or night. It seems the candidates have enough money to buy TV ads ad nauseam.

As of now, high rollers are marching into Montana with massive wads of cash to back U.S. Senate and U.S. House candidates. They can also finance campaigns through the back door under the notorious Citizens United Supreme Court decision. Now, they don't have to bother with such niceties. They can put their dollars straight into the candidate's coffers.

Montana has had exceptionally clean politics in recent years, in large part because politicians campaign the old-fashioned way. They talk to voters, participate in forums and explain their views on issues. Campaign commercials generally simply reinforced the statements candidates made to the public.

The increasing ability of out-of-state interests to finance elections have jeopardized this vital tradition. If, for instance, some out-of-state interest wanted special favors from the Hill County Commission, they could dump thousands of dollars in the campaign war chests of commissioner candidates.

We're hopeful that Hill County voters would be repulsed by this, and there would be a tremendous backlash.

But West Virginia and Illinois voters are probably equally sure their voters wouldn't fall for this scheme, but in both states judges to the state's highest courts were elected based on commercials funded by special interest groups. Then, unashamedly, judges ruled in favor of the special interests that funded their campaigns.

Fortunately, many Montana politicians have said they continue to follow the old guidelines, at least for now. And Attorney General Steve Bullock is filing an emergency appeal.

But this can't last forever. If the guidelines are removed, sooner or later, in self-defense, every political leader will be forced to accept beaucoup cash from special interests. And something uniquely Montana will be lost.

 

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