Montana, which has become somewhat of a hotbed for campaign finance litigation, saw another one of its laws struck down yesterday. Following a bench trial, a U.S. District Court determined that “Montana’s contribution limits in Montana Code Annotated § 13-37-216 are unconstitutional under the First Amendment” because they “prevent candidates from ‘amassing the resources necessary for effective advocacy.’” These limits ranged from $160 to $630. Interestingly, the court noted that it “will in due course issue complete and extensive findings of fact and conclusions of law” to explain the decision, but that it wanted to issue the order striking down the law “before voting begins in the upcoming election.” As is often the case, a trial court’s ruling is only the first step in litigation. The State apparently intends to file an immediate appeal and a request to stay the decision with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
This area of the law is relatively new and still emerging. It wasn’t until the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2006 decision in Randall v. Sorrell that the Court invalidated a law that imposed monetary limits on contributions to candidates because they were too low. And somewhat unusually, six Justices authored opinions. We will see what kinds of clarifications the district court puts forth here.
[10/10/2012] Update here.