HELENA – The U.S. Supreme Court Monday declined to hear a challenge to Montana’s campaign-contribution limits, letting the 24-year-old law stand.
The high court, without comment, denied the appeal of a 2017 appellate court ruling that upheld Montana’s monetary limits on what individuals, political-action committees and political parties can give to state candidates.
Jaime MacNaughton, an attorney for Montana’s commissioner of political practices, said Monday the court’s decision is a big win for the state and clean campaigns.
“Montana secured a victory today for transparency and accountability in our government and our elected officials,” she said.
A collection of Montana-based business, Republican Party and conservative groups initially challenged the limits almost nine years ago. They were represented by James Bopp Jr., an Indian-based lawyer and prominent critic of limits on campaign spending and contributions.
Montana’s law, enacted by voter initiative in 1994, has monetary ceilings for types of individual donations and aggregate limits on how much candidates can accept from PACs.
For example, state Senate candidates can accept up to $2,850 per election in PAC donations and political parties can give up to $24,500 to gubernatorial candidates.
The highest limit for individual donations is $1,320 a year to gubernatorial candidates. Other statewide candidates can accept up to $680 a year from one person or PAC, and legislative candidates up to $360.
U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell struck down the limits in 2012 and 2015 as an unconstitutional limit on free speech, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overruled him in October 2017 and said Montana’s limits are acceptable.
The plaintiffs then appealed that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to take the case Monday.
Bopp had argued that Montana’s contribution limits are so low that they “distort” campaigns and encourage campaign spending in other, less-transparent ways.