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Montana Election Law Won’t Go to High Court

WASHINGTON (CN) - The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to vacate a stay that lets Montana keep limiting how much money political parties can give to candidates vying for office.

Montana has been enforcing its contribution limit since 1994, but rancher Doug Lair led a coalition of conservative Republican groups in a challenge to the law last year.

After a bench trial in Helena in early October 2012, U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell permanently enjoined the state from enforcing the limits.

Montana sought a stay pending appeal, which the 9th Circuit preliminarily granted on Oct. 10, 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 Oct. 16 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.

Under the stay, this law will remain in force pending the state's appeal.

"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 (sic) 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."

Per its custom, the Supreme Court did not comment on why it refused to vacate the stay Tuesday.

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