Court Explains Restored Montana Election Law

     (CN) – Limits on how much money political parties can give to candidates seeking office in Montana will carry through the upcoming election, the 9th Circuit ruled.
     The federal appeals court late Tuesday put on hold a recent ruling that declared the law unconstitutional. The contribution limit, which has been law since 1994, will remain so pending the state’s appeal.
     A coalition of conservative Republican groups challenged the contribution limits in 2011 on First Amendment grounds. After a bench trial in Helena in early October, U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell permanently enjoined the state from enforcing the limits. The state sought a stay pending appeal, which the 9th Circuit preliminarily granted last week, finding that it had no other choice but to do so because the lower court had yet to issue a formal ruling on the issue.
     With that ruling in hand, a three-judge panel on Tuesday ruled for the state again, finding that it was likely to succeed on the merits of its case. The panel also found that the 9th Circuit is still bound by a ruling that declared the same limits constitutional after a similar challenge in 2003.
     “In light of Montana’s interest in regulating campaign contributions, the lack of evidence that other parties will be substantially injured, and the public’s substantial interest in the stability of its electoral system in the final weeks leading to an election, we will stay the order pending the state’s appeal,” Judge Jay Bybee wrote for the unanimous panel.
     “The Montana contribution limit statute has long stood, not only to prevent corruption, but also to create an background of fairness to allow candidates to plan their campaigns and implement their strategies upon the foundation of well-laid and understood ground rules,” Bybee added. “Given the deep public interest in honest and fair elections and the numerous available options for the interested parties to continue to vigorously participate in the election, the balance of interests falls resoundingly in favor of the public interest.”

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