At a Glance
Montanans for Community Development (“MCD”) v. Mangan is a challenge to Montana’s disclosure laws, which serve to protect voters’ ability to know who is behind the election advertising they see, read, or hear. The laws at issue require political groups that spend money to influence Montana voters to disclose basic information about their finances so that voters are able to evaluate the electoral messages they receive.Back to top
About this Case
About the case
Montanans for Community Development (“MCD”) v. Mangan is a challenge to Montana’s disclosure laws, which serve to protect voters’ ability to know who is behind the election advertising they see, read, or hear. The laws at issue require political groups that spend money to influence Montana voters to disclose basic information about their finances so that voters are able to evaluate the electoral messages they receive.
MCD, the self-described “social welfare organization” challenging these laws, wanted to send out political mailers shortly before an election “educating” Montana voters by attacking or supporting certain candidates for office. Because MCD did not want to disclose who funded these mailings, it sued. MCD is challenging the laws as unconstitutionally vague and overbroad in defining which groups must disclose their funding, and unconstitutional as applied to MCD’s proposed mailers. MCD calls its mailers “issue advocacy,” even though they support or attack particular candidates. MCD is also challenging the investigatory powers of Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices on the theory that it has been discriminated against based on its viewpoint.
A federal district court in Montana dismissed each of MCD’s contentions as meritless and MCD is appealing that decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
In July 2017, CLC filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Ninth Circuit in support of Montana. CLC’s brief argues that Montana’s disclosure law is neither vague nor overbroad, but instead an appropriately tailored means of ensuring that voters know who is spending money in their elections. And although MCD challenges the law as burdening their First Amendment rights, as CLC’s brief explains, Montana’s law also advances core First Amendment interests, because it provides voters with the information they need to make meaningful electoral choices and hold elected officials accountable—activities that are essential to self-government.
What’s at stake
Many states and municipalities have laws that parallel Montana’s. Disclosure laws like Montana’s are critical because voters deserve to know who is spending money to influence their votes.
Transparency is the foundation of an open democracy. Courts across the country have upheld a broad range of disclosure requirements against constitutional attack – including the Supreme Court, which has consistently approved campaign finance disclosure laws as a means of preventing corruption, ensuring that other campaign finance rules are followed, and aiding voters’ ability to make informed choices on Election Day.
At a time where more dark money is flooding into state and local elections, these types of laws are more important than ever to protect voters and our system of self-government