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Conservative groups challenge Montana campaign laws

HELENA — A conservative group asked a federal judge Thursday to undo Montana's campaign contribution restrictions, even as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a related case.

Virginia-based American Tradition Partnership is headlining a group that wants the federal court to immediately undo Montana's donation limits for individuals, political action committees, political parties and others. It also wants to do away with state laws that require disclaimers on attack ads, and ban false statements in those attacks.

ATP is joined in the lawsuit by the Montana Right to Life Association, Lake County Republican Central Committee, Beaverhead County Republican Central Committee and other conservative groups. The coalition told U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell that the restrictions are an unconstitutional restriction of free speech.

The Montana attorney general's office is defending the limits as necessary to prevent political corruption.

An attorney representing the groups said that the campaign spending limits go too far. Noel Johnson argued that limiting the amount political parties can donate to their own candidates serves no anti-corruption since they naturally are supportive of each other.

The state argued the issues overlap a separate case brought by the group that's now before the U.S. Supreme Court that seeks to overturn Montana's ban on corporations spending to help elect or defeat candidates. Assistant attorney General Michael Black said the lower federal court shouldn't intervene until the higher court settles some of the issues in the other case.

A day earlier, The Montana Attorney General told the U.S. Supreme Court in a filing that the state's century-old ban on direct corporate political donations has helped safeguard Montana from the "scourge of political corruption." The nation's high court is weighing a request from American Tradition Partnership to immediately overturn the Montana ban.

Both cases piggyback on the U.S. Supreme Court Citizens' United decision from last year granting political speech rights to corporations.

American Tradition Partnership has a third case that fights sanctions Montana is attempting to levy against it for allegedly violating campaign finance laws.

The attorney general's office told Lovell that the case in front of him, at the least, deserves a full trial that would include more fact-finding before he decides to make any quick decisions to toss out Montana campaign finance laws.

Lovell promised a quick decision on the request for an immediate injunction since campaign season is heating up.


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