HELENA — Portions of Montana's campaign finance law are so vague and broad that the state regulator can enforce the law against groups he dislikes, while ignoring similar allegations against groups he supports, a nonprofit organization trying to strike down the law plans to argue in court Tuesday.
Attorneys for Montanans for Community Development will ask U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen during a hearing in Missoula to rule without a trial that the state's rules governing campaigns are unconstitutional.
Attorneys for the state also are asking Christensen to rule in their favor without a trial. They argue that Montana's campaign finance laws are constitutionally sound and there is no selective enforcement by the commissioner's office.
MCD is a "social welfare" organization not required to disclose donors or spending to the commissioner of political practices. The group argues it will be forced to register and make those disclosures as an organization that expressly advocates for or against the election of candidates, while it is simply wants to distribute ads about issues that mention certain candidates.
The organization's lawsuit is one of at least two constitutional challenges to Montana's new campaign finance law that requires more disclosure and more frequent reporting from groups that spend money to influence elections. A third lawsuit seeks to strike down Montana's limits on contributions to candidates by individuals and groups before the June 7 primary elections.
The state's rules contain circular and unconstitutionally vague and overly broad definitions for terms such as "expenditures," "contributions" and "political committees," the organization's attorney, Anita Milanovich, wrote in a summary of the group's argument. The imprecise language not only makes issue-advocacy groups subject to reporting, but it allows for mischief and discrimination by the commissioner of political practices in selectively enforcing the rules, she wrote.
The current commissioner, Jonathan Motl, has prosecuted conservative candidates and organizations for coordination, while dismissing similar allegations against more moderate candidates, she wrote.
The Supreme Court has confirmed that disclosure requirements do not block free speech, and that the state has an interest in providing its citizens with information about the groups and individuals who spend money in elections, Assistant Attorney General Matthew Cochenour wrote.
There is no evidence supporting the allegations MCD makes against Motl, he added.