9th Circuit upholds Montana’s disclosure laws against dark money challenge

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this week upheld a Montana law requiring so-called “dark money” groups and other election influencers to disclose fundraising and campaign spending in a case defended by Attorney General Tim Fox.

The challenge, brought by Montanans for Community Development, took aim at Montana’s campaign finance laws by calling them vague, overly broad and unconstitutional.

The court disagreed with the group’s “scattershot” complaint on all accounts.

“Even if electioneering communications only educate the public about a candidate, Montana still has a substantial interest in disclosing to the public who is doing the educating,” the decision said.

On the claim of being vague, the court deemed that the definitions cited by state law “provide a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice of what’s prohibited.” It also disagreed with MCD’s claims that Montana law was overly broad.

“The disclosure requirements of filling out a short form and designating a treasurer and bank account are not overly burdensome,” the court ruled.

Gov. Steve Bullock worked with a bipartisan group of lawmakers during the 2015 Legislature to pass the state’s DISCLOSE Act, which requires the disclosure of secret spending, or dark money, by independent groups seeking to influence Montana elections.

“Montanans have long known that tough, honest disclosure laws make our elections better,” Bullock said in a statement. “While the country is still reeling from the devastating Citizens United ruling, in Montana we’re fighting back to ensure our government belongs to the people, not corporations and special interests.”

The case marked the third time in the last seven months that Attorney General Tim Fox and his office have defended with success the state’s campaign laws before the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

“The people of Montana clearly want transparency in our elections,” said Fox. “I’m proud of my team for defending Montana’s choice to shine a light on all who choose to participate in our electoral process.”