Conservative advocacy group is challenging campaign order

Friday, August 30, 2019

HELENA (AP) — A conservative advocacy group is challenging Montana Gov. Steve Bullock’s executive order that requires organizations that receive large state contracts to report political contributions that exceed $2,500, even if those disclosures aren’t required under federal election laws.

The challenge was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court by the Illinois Opportunity Project, which said it plans to spend money during the 2020 election cycle to urge Montana gubernatorial candidates to repeal the executive order.

IOP argues requiring disclosure of donations could lead to personal and economic repercussions for its supporters, who may want to seek state contracts in Montana.

“Across the country, individual and corporate donors to political candidates and issue causes are being subject to boycotts, harassment, protests, career damage and even death threats for publicly engaging in the public square,” the lawsuit states.

Bullock, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, has made campaign finance reform a key issue in his political career. He said IOP’s challenge shows the reason for his executive order, which took effect in October 2018. It requires companies that receive contracts valued at more than $25,000 for services or more than $50,000 for goods to report two years’ worth of political spending if that spending exceeds $2,500.

“They’re claiming they want to try to corrupt our 2020 governor race but they don’t want anybody to see who’s spending,” Bullock told Lee Newspapers of Montana. “It sort of represents the whole problem with our overall electoral system. That’s the very point of transparency, so out-of-state corporations can’t buy elections.”

Daniel Suhr, an attorney with Liberty Justice Center, said Bullock’s executive order violates free speech and privacy rights.

“Ultimately this case is about the right of every American to engage in advocacy around the issues that are important to our community without fear of disclosure, reprisal or harassment,” Suhr said. “Privacy in advocacy is especially important for people with unpopular and minority views.”

The court filing argues that if Bullock’s executive order remains state policy the Illinois group will “chill its own speech and not engage in its desired communication.”

“If their theory is dark money groups won’t spend in Montana’s elections if they have to disclose . then that proves the whole point of why we need to do things like this,” Bullock said, adding that others who are seeking state contracts are complying with the order.

A hearing date has not been set.

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