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home : news : state news free February 26, 2020

1/3/2020 12:27:00 PM
Group must revise suit over dark money

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A conservative advocacy group must show that it or one of its donors is being harmed before continuing with a lawsuit seeking to overturn an executive order by Montana’s governor requiring organizations that receive large state contracts to report political contributions over $2,500, a federal judge ruled.

The Illinois Opportunity Project challenged Gov. Steve Bullock’s executive order, saying it could harm donors and limit potential donors to the group. The organization said it plans to send mailings to thousands of Montana voters before the November 2020 gubernatorial race urging the candidates to overturn the October 2018 executive order and would seek corporate donations in Montana.

If the group did spend money to campaign against the executive order, any corporation that donated more than $2,500 to the Illinois group in the previous two years and who wanted to bid on state of Montana contracts worth more than $25,000 for goods or $50,000 for services would have to disclose those donations.

The Illinois group argued its donors should be able to advocate for issues without fear of disclosure, which would lead to boycotts, protest or harassment. Such disclosures are not required under federal law.

However, the complaint does not allege that any current donor to the Illinois Opportunity Project has previously bid on a Montana contract, but wouldn’t now because of the executive order, U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell wrote in his order Wednesday.

The complaint also does not allege the Illinois group had solicited money from any potential donor who refused to make a donation because of Bullock’s executive order, the judge wrote.

Lovell gave Illinois Opportunity Project until Jan. 21 to file an amended complaint alleging such a donor exists. If donors or potential donors are identified during discovery, Lovell said he could enter a protective order limiting the number of people who learn their names.

If the deadline passes without a filing, Lovell said he would dismiss the case for lack of standing.

“Today’s decision is another chapter in Montana’s proud, successful history of standing up to out-of-state dark money groups that want to buy our elections,“ Bullock said in a statement.

Attorney Daniel Suhr with Liberty Justice Center, which represents the Illinois Opportunity Project, said he is reviewing the judge’s order to determine its next steps.

“Privacy is a fundamental constitutional right and every American has the right to support causes they believe in without fear of being outed, shamed, harassed or intimidated,” Suhr said in a statement. “Our next step in this case will be based on protecting that principle.“

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