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Ninth Circuit Says Montana Can Limit State Campaign Donations

By Robyn Hagan Cain on October 12, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Whether or not you agree with the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United, you have to appreciate that the case continues to generate work for lawyers. There's a job shortage out there, friends. If you can direct your practice to campaign finance law, you can stay employed during election cycles.

This week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Montana can limit campaign contributions to candidates for state office, reports The New York Times. The decision comes only one week after a federal judge struck down the campaign contribution caps as an unconstitutional restriction of free speech rights.

Under the contested Montana law, individuals and political committees can only give $630 to candidates for governor or lieutenant governor, and as little as $160 for other candidates for public office. District Judge Charles Lovell concluded last week that the rules prevented candidates from raising enough money "for effective campaign advocacy."

But Judge Lovell didn't provide context for his conclusion.

In staying Judge Lovell's decision, the Ninth Circuit noted: To date ... the district court has not issued findings of fact and conclusions of law in support of its order, although it indicated in an Order issued [Tuesday] that such findings and conclusions will be 'finalized and filed soon.' Without such findings, however, the court is severely constrained in its consideration of the underlying issues raised in the emergency motion.

While November elections are just around the corner, it's possible that the Ninth Circuit could allow uncapped campaign contributions if Judge Lovell provides a thorough explanation of his reasoning.

Montana isn't normally known as a hotbed of political controversy, but this is the second headline-grabbing campaign finance law case out of Big Sky Country this year. In June, the Supreme Court struck down Montana's corporate campaign contribution ban. The Court issued a 5-4 summary reversal in the case, noting, "The question presented in this case is whether the holding of Citizens United applies to the Montana state law. There can be no serious doubt that it does."

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