Republicans Challenge State Campaign Laws

     BILLINGS, Mont. (CN) - A dozen Republican businesses, businessmen and political action committees have sued Montana, claiming the state's campaign funding caps, political speech disclaimer requirements and prohibition of false political statements are unconstitutional.
     The plaintiffs claim Montana's election laws violate their rights to speech and free association.
     Plaintiffs include the Montana Right to Life Association PAC, the American Tradition Partnership PAC, and two Montana counties' Republican Central Committees.
     The plaintiff claim Montana election laws - specifically, § 13-37-216, §§ 13-35-227, §§ 13-35-225 and §§ 13-37-131- "burden" and "chill" individuals', corporations' and PACs' rights and leave them susceptible to misdemeanor charges and fines should they violate the regulations.
     According to the complaint, § 13-37-216 "limits contributions individuals and political committees may make to political candidates;" §§ 13-37-216 limits "contributions from political parties to their candidates and imposes an aggregate limit on the contributions more than one political party may make to candidates;" and §§ 13-35-227 "bans corporate general-fund contributions to candidates and also bans corporate general-fund contributions to committees making independent expenditures."
     Further, §§ 13-35-225 "imposes disclaimer requirements on political speech," and §§ 13-37-131 "bans political statements about candidates' voting records that the state judges to be false."
     "Those who violate, or attempt to violate, any of the challenged provisions are guilty of a misdemeanor ... and are subject to prosecution. ... If convicted, they are subject to fines," according to the complaint.
     Under Montana law, an individual or PAC may contribute up to $600 to governor and lieutenant governor candidates, and $300 to other statewide offices, including attorney general, secretary of state, state auditor, superintendent of public instruction, Supreme Court justice and clerk of the Supreme Court.
     State Senate, House and district judge candidate may receive up to $160 per individual or PAC, per election.
     Political parties may contribute $21,600 to a governor or lieutenant governor entrant, $7,800 to statewide offices, and $3,100 to Public Service Commission candidates. State Senate contenders may receive $1,250 from a single political party, while state House candidates are capped at $800.
     The plaintiff Republican Party Central Committees from Lake County and Beaverhead County say the donation regulations keep them for both contributing to the same candidate, which prevents them from a "symbolic expression of support that a minimal contribution might allow."
     Plaintiff Doug Lair, a rancher, and Steve Dogiakos, the owner of a web design firm, say that they want to contribute above the limits to Republican candidates for the 2012 election, but cannot.
     The plaintiffs challenge the state's disclaimer requirement and false statement laws, which make it illegal to misrepresent a candidate's voting records, as "compelled disclosure," which "unconstitutionally penalizes protected opinion."
     If a candidate wants to challenge a rival's platform, he or she must cite the rival's voting record on all printed materials tied to the challenge, the plaintiffs say.
     The plaintiffs say those provisions are content-based regulation and fail the strict-scrutiny review under ACLU v. Heller.
     Plaintiffs include Jake Oil LLC, JL Oil LLC, Champion Painting Inc. and John Milanovich, who ran for Montana House in the last election and says he will run again in 2012.
     Plaintiff Sweet Grass Council for Community Integrity says its "members are concerned about the explosive growth of government and its negative effect on their lives and livelihoods."
     Named as defendants are David Gallick, the state's commissioner of political practices; Attorney General Steve Bullock; and Leo Gallagher, the Lewis and Clark County attorney.
     Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief to enjoin enforcement of the election codes.
     They are represented by John Bloomquist with Doney Crowley Payne Bloomquist of Helena.