Issue Advocacy Group Seeks United States Supreme Court Review of Montana’s Political Committee Laws


On Wednesday, Montanans for Community Development (“MCD”) completed briefing seeking review from the United States Supreme Court of Montana’s political committee laws. MCD also asks the Court to review federal circuit rules that allow federal circuits to issue decisions they later don’t have to follow, as occurred here in the Ninth Circuit.

MCD is a small, 501(c)(4) association that wants to promote and educate Montanans about opportunities for economic development in the state. Since 2014, it has wanted to circulate ads promoting energy development and Montana jobs. Some of the ads also mention individuals who, at the time, were candidates for office.

Under Montana law, this means MCD is a political committee. Montana law states that a group like MCD that spends more than $250 either 1) expressly advocate for or against a candidate, or 2) mentioning a candidate within 90 days of an election, is a political committee that must report its spending and spending sources, and must follow rules regarding how the money is processed, including rules about treasurers and bank approval. MCD’s purpose is not the election or defeat of a candidate, nor are its ads related to any candidate campaign. But that hasn’t stopped Montana from enforcing this sweeping law against issue advocacy groups like MCD.

The repercussions for not following Montana’s 111 pages of campaign finance law are severe. In 2013, a 501(c)(4) organization was fined over $260,000 for failing to report its expenses for ads similar to MCD’s. And the candidates that “benefitted” from those ads were sued for thousands of dollars for supposedly “accepting” the spending on these ads as illegal corporate contributions and not reporting them. MCD, and any candidate “benefitting” from its ads, could be subject to the same fate. And since MCD’s decision is not precedent, while MCD is treated as a political committee, others may not be as they and the courts are not required to follow the decision.

“Citizens United allows for one-time, event-driven reporting for speech that expressly advocates for or against a candidate,” says James Bopp, Jr., the lead attorney for MCD. “But Montana goes well beyond that, making nearly everyone who engages in express advocacy, or even simply mentions a candidate in the months leading up to an election, a political committee subject to comprehensive, burdensome regulations. The United States Supreme Court has reserved political committee status for only those organizations with a major purpose of elected or defeating a candidate. When burdensome regulations are imposed on just about anyone, political speech and public debate on important issues are silenced. The Supreme Court should take this case to ensure its own decisions are followed and fix conflicts among the circuits on this issue.” “Likewise,” he adds, “the Court should take this case to review the court rules that allow circuit courts to issue decisions they don’t have to follow.”

The case is Montanans for Community Development v. Motl, No. 18-377. Montana counsel Anita Y. Milanovich also represents MCD on the case. MCD’s cert petition reply can be found here.

James Bopp, Jr. has a national constitutional law practice with The Bopp Law Firm, PC.

Contact Us

Contact Milanovich Law, PLLC

100 E Broadway St.
The Berkeley Room
Butte, MT 59701
United States

Free Initial Consultation