A judge’s ruling that lifted Montana’s campaign-contribution caps and allowed unlimited donations was put on indefinite hold by a U.S. appeals court, three weeks before the Nov. 6 general election.
Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock, a Democrat, won a bid to delay the Oct. 3 ruling by a federal judge who concluded that Montana’s contribution limits were unconstitutional under the First Amendment. The U.S. Court of Appeals based in San Francisco temporarily blocked the ruling on Oct. 9.
“Absentee voting has already begun in Montana and the general election is imminent,” Justice Jay Bybee, who was nominated to the federal bench by Republican President George W. Bush, wrote in a unanimous three-judge ruling. “Allowing the permanent injunction to remain in place before a merits panel of this court can ultimately rule on the constitutionality of the Montana contribution limit statute could throw a previously stable system into chaos.”
American Tradition Partnership, a Washington-based lobbying organization, and other groups had sued to overturn the limits. They won a ruling by U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell on Oct. 3 that the cap violates free speech rights.
The federal appeals court temporarily put the rule on hold six days later. Some groups already had begun accepting above- limit donations while others hadn’t, Judy Beck, a spokeswoman for Bullock, said in a telephone interview.
The ruling “is an important victory for all Montanans,” Bullock said in an e-mail. “The court has allowed us to maintain our citizen democracy, rather than putting our elections up for auction to the highest bidder.”
Donny Ferguson, a spokesman for American Tradition Partnership, didn’t immediately respond to a voice-mail message seeking comment on the ruling.
In Montana, individual contributions to candidates are limited to $630 on the gubernatorial ticket, $310 to candidates for statewide office and $160 for candidates of other offices, the group said on its website.
The case is Lair v. Bullock, 12-35809, U.S. Court for the Ninth Circuit (San Francisco).
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