On October 3, U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell threw out Montana’s campaign contribution limits, writing that they prevent candidates from “amassing the resources necessary for effective campaign advocacy.” On October 9, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily stayed his ruling and, noting that the state’s appeal was “likely to succeed,” later ordered that the state’s campaign finance rules be operative for this year’s election.
But that left a six-day window in which Montana was prohibited from enforcing its limits on campaign contributions. The Montana Republican Party opted to use that gap to make a large transfer — $500,000 — from its coffers to the gubernatorial campaign of former U.S. Rep. Rick Hill (R). The Hill campaign accepted the money and says it will keep and spend the cash, as it was a legal contribution at the time it was made.
State Democrats are crying foul. State Attorney General Steve Bullock, the Democratic nominee for governor, says his campaign accepted no over-the-limit donations in the brief period and will challenge the donation. The Associated Press reports:
Bullock’s campaign filed a complaint with the commissioner of political practices, which oversees campaign finance reporting for state candidates. The attorney general also said he may file another complaint in court with the aim of blocking Hill from using the money before the Nov. 6 election. Lovell’s ruling only briefly prevented the commissioner from enforcing the campaign contribution limits, and it didn’t give candidates the right to accept such donations, Bullock said. Violation of state election laws is a misdemeanor crime.
“It shows that he’s going to go to any level, including taking illegal contributions, to win the election,” Bullock said of Hill. “This is a serious violation. It’s a $500,000 violation of Montana’s laws. There certainly could be implications beyond the election.”
With polls showing the race in a virtual dead heat and relatively low state donation limits, the Montana Republican Party’s contribution amounts to a significant sum, and could potentially make the difference. Even if his ruling is ultimately overturned in the appeals process, Reagan appointee Lovell’s ruling against any campaign finance limits could sway the election.