BOZEMAN, Mont. (CN) - Montana's campaign-finance laws "impose onerous burdens" on corporate political speech and are "impermissibly vague," overbroad and unconstitutional, Montana Shrugged Teaparty Patriots Inc. claims in Federal Court.
Montana law bars corporations from donating money to a candidate or political committee "that supports or opposes a candidate or political party."
But corporations can set up a separate fund for making political contributions or expenditures, so long as the money comes from voluntary contributions from individual shareholders.
The Billings-based TEA party organization says the corporate expenditure ban is unconstitutional under the Supreme Court's recent ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, which allowed unlimited corporate contributions in elections.
"Montana also cannot force Montana Shrugged to create a political committee in order to speak because Citizens United held that the federal statute was still a ban, and no less unconstitutional, even though a corporation could create a political action committee, which could do expenditures," the lawsuit states.
Because state provisions are overly vague and broad, the group says it "reasonably fears" that some of its activities violate Montana campaign-finance laws."
It also challenges Montana's ban on coordinated expenditures and its requirement that Montana Shrugged register as a political committee.
The group says Montana's attempt to regulate "incidental" political committees "inherently sweeps in organizations engaging in de minimus campaign-related speech regardless of the size and resources of the organization."
The 3,000-member group and its founders, Eric and Jennifer Olsen, seek a declaration that Montana's campaign-finance laws are unconstitutional and demand an injunction barring their enforcement.
They are represented by James Brown with Doney Crownley Bloomquist Payne Uda PC of Helena.
Defendants are Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock, Yellowstone County attorney Dennis Paxinos and state political practices commissioner Dennis Unsworth.