A judge has ruled that ‘Montana’s Clean Campaign Act’ is unconstitutional, declaring that the 2007 law designed to curb last-minute attack acts violated the right to free speech and “delays, and sometimes even prevents, political speech on the basis of content.”
Six days before the November 2020 election in Montana, the political advocacy committee Montana Citizens for Right to Work (MCRW), who focus on fighting against mandatory union dues or membership as a requirement for employment, sent mailers out to 16,000 voters in 20 legislative districts, letting them know where their local politicians stood on issues relating to union dues and ‘right to work policies.’ They encouraged the citizenry that if they found their representative’s held views distasteful, to contact them and make their ire known.
The Montana Democratic Party did not like this and lost their ever-loving minds, accusing MCRW of violating the law. This is because according to the Clean Campaign Act, if it’s within ten days of the election, a committee must notify candidates if their names will be mentioned in campaign material, particularly in a negative way, so that they can have time to respond.
Jeff Mangan, Montana Commissioner of Political Practices, agreed with the Democratic Party that laws were broken and offered that the MCRW could settle the complaint if they paid an $8000 fine. If they refused, they would get taken to court and sued for a $20,000 fine.
Matthew Monforton, the Bozeman lawyer representing the MCRW was disgusted by the threat, telling the Montana State News Bureau at the time:
“A $20,000 penalty for criticizing legislators is absurd even by Montana’s anti free-speech standards.”
Monforton would later add:
“the Clean Campaign Act is a typical incumbency-protection act. Incumbents don’t like criticism, especially near Election Day. So they enacted a statute to deter it.”
MCRW quickly refused the offer and instead went on the offensive, suing Managan to strike down the law as violating the First Amendment. Monforton argued not only was it imposing an undue burden on free speech, it was also violating equal-protection guarantees, on account that it was singling out political committees uniquely, whereas other groups didn’t have to follow the same strictures.
U.S. District Judge Don Molloy of Missoula ultimately agreed and struck it down, noting: