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June 21, 2012

State Asks Court to Dismiss Challenge to Montana’s Campaign Limits

Attorney General Steve Bullock on Wednesday asked the U.S. District Court in Helena to dismiss a case filed by American Tradition Partnership and others challenging Montana’s limits on campaign contributions to candidates by political parties and individuals.

The state’s brief explains that, over the past 11 months, ATP has had the opportunity to develop evidence that Montana’s contribution limits are so low, candidates cannot mount effective campaigns.  However, the brief argues that evidence has not materialized.

The state also notes that, at the same time ATP is arguing in court that Montana’s existing system does not allow its voice to be heard in Montana elections, that organization recently posted a press release on its website which “boasted about [its] success in Montana’s 2012 primary elections…[and] claimed that their efforts led to successful election of twelve out of fourteen candidates they supported in the June 5 primary.”

ATP’s sole expert witness is Clark Bensen, an out-of-state consultant who admittedly “does not identify any experience with Montana elections, and even disclaims knowledge of relevant considerations such as the nature of legislative districts and the cost of campaigning.”

In contrast, the state’s brief was supported by the testimony of three expert witnesses, all of whom contradicted the plaintiffs’ claim that Montana’s contribution limits prevent candidates from raising the money needed to run effective campaigns. Edwin Bender, executive director of the National Institute on Money in State Politics; Dr. Thomas Stratmann, professor of economics and law at George Mason University; and Paul Ryan, senior counsel for The Campaign Legal Center in Washington, D.C., all declared that “Montana’s elections are among the most healthy in the country,” that campaign contribution limits “do not impede competitive elections” and that aggregate limits on contributions from political parties to candidates “serve to prevent corruption or the appearance thereof.”“

“Montana’s contribution limits yield competitive and robust campaigns,” Bullock wrote. “The voices of political parties have not been reduced to a whisper, but remain loud and vibrant.”