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New arguments filed in campaign finance case

 


HELENA — The Montana attorney general's office filed new arguments Friday in the ongoing court battle over Montana's political spending restrictions, saying the state's ban on corporate campaign contributions is constitutional.

The arguments come in one of three court cases challenging the state's campaign finance laws, an effort led by a conservative group that has been active with political attacks in Montana but argues that as an education group, it is not subject to state election laws.

U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell recently offered a preliminary ruling on aspects of the group's federal case. The judge ordered the state to stop enforcing its ban on knowingly false statements in political attacks, and also blocked a requirement that political attacks disclose relevant voting records.

The judge is considering a broader campaign finance law challenge that was filed in the wake of the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that granted free-speech rights to corporations.

Conservative groups asked the judge on Friday to permanently strike the false statement and disclosure laws, and to rule unconstitutional a ban on corporate general-fund contributions to independent expenditure committees.

Virginia-based American Tradition Partnership, formerly Western Tradition Partnership, is joined in the federal case by the Montana Right to Life Association, Lake County Republican Central Committee, Beaverhead County Republican Central Committee and other conservative groups.

The judge has said he will decide such issues before a trial later this year that will deal primarily with the argument that the state's contribution limits to candidates are set too low.

The attorney general's office argued in a brief filed Friday that the judge should reject the request to throw out the ban on corporate contributions to candidates, an argument expected to come later, and to also throw out the other requests from the political groups.

"Essentially, plaintiffs seek license to inject unlimited amounts of money into all of Montana's state and local elections (including judicial elections), and want to be free to use that money to engage in malicious attacks on candidate voting records with no accountability for truth," Assistant Attorney General Michael Black wrote in a brief. "The Constitution does not require this court to enjoin Montana's ban on corporate contributions to candidates, or enjoin Montana's political civil libel law to allow for baseless political attacks with actual malice on voting records of candidates."

The state argues that the restrictions and limits are needed to regulate corruption and election fraud.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court intervened in another of the ongoing Montana court cases over campaign finance laws. The high court ruled overruled the Montana Supreme Court and tossed out the state's century-old ban on corporations spending from their general treasury on third-party political advertising.

 

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