- Associated Press - Friday, October 24, 2014

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - A federal judge has rejected an effort by a Helena-based nonprofit group to prevent the state from enforcing its campaign-finance laws in the weeks before the election.

“The breadth of what (Montanans for Community Development) is asking, on the eve of the midterm election, is staggering,” U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen wrote Wednesday in denying the request to declare the state’s campaign finance laws unconstitutional.

Anita Milanovich, an attorney for MCD, said in September that the group was seeking the ruling because it wanted to publish political advertisements without being required to identify its donors. She said the reporting requirements were stifling free speech.

Christensen said Wednesday that the interest of Montana voters in transparent political funding outweighs the minimal burden imposed by campaign disclosure requirements.

Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl was pleased with the decision, especially given the upheaval caused by a brief suspension of the state’s campaign contribution limits two years ago.

“There were eight days where our contribution limits were suspended and during that time huge amounts of money poured into political campaigns,” Motl said. “It really created quite a bit of chaos.”

Gubernatorial candidate Rick Hill accepted a $500,000 donation from the Republican Party before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the ruling that suspended the campaign limit. The contribution prompted a lawsuit and complaint filed with Motl’s office.

The party also donated $32,000 to Tim Fox’s campaign for attorney general, but he returned the money after the 9th Circuit decision.

The appellate court has not issued a final ruling in the campaign contribution limits.

MCD is represented by the Bopp Law Firm of Indiana. The Bopp firm represented those who challenged Montana campaign finance laws in 2012 as well as Citizens United in the 2010 Supreme Court decision that allowed for expanded campaign spending by corporations and unions after finding restrictions on those independent expenditures violated free speech rights.

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