Ninth Circuit Urged to Overturn Ruling that Ignored Precedent to Strike Down Montana Political Campaign Contribution Limits


Today, the Campaign Legal Center, joined by Common Cause, Justice at Stake and the League of Women Voters, filed an amici brief in Lair v. Motl urging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to overturn a District Court ruling striking down Montana’s political campaign contribution limits.  The brief emphasizes that the District Court disregarded both Ninth Circuit and Supreme Court precedent to overturn Montana’s limits on contributions to state candidates, including judges, from individuals and political parties.

“The Ninth Circuit has already found that Montana’s contribution limits are justified by vital and constitutionally permissible state interests, and the validity of that decision was in no way altered by subsequent Supreme Court case law,” said Megan McAllen, Campaign Legal Center Associate Counsel.  “The Supreme Court has been steadfast in its recognition that limits on direct contributions to candidates are a justifiable means of preventing corruption and its appearance.  Without legal precedent for doing so, the lower court effectively cleared the way for candidates to receive contributions of a million dollars or more from a single individual.  The risk of quid pro quo corruption could not be plainer.”

The District Court overturned the “base” candidate contribution limits applicable to individuals and PACs—which have already been upheld by the Ninth Circuit—as unconstitutionally low based on the Supreme Court’s intervening decision inRandall v. Sorrell, which struck down Vermont limits that were markedly lower and more restrictive than Montana’s.  Moreover, Randall did not fundamentally alter the Supreme Court’s longstanding approach to the review of contribution limits and thus did nothing to undermine the Ninth Circuit’s earlier decision.

In addition to the limits on candidate contributions from individuals and PACs, the lower court struck down Montana’s limits as they apply to contributions from political party committees. Montana does not limit the amount that any individual or PAC may give to political parties, but instead restricts the “aggregate” amount a candidate can receive from his or her political party.  Montana’s party limits therefore represent an appropriately-tailored means of preventing circumvention of the individual contribution limits.  By contrast, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision earlier this summer in McCutcheon v. FEC struck down limits on the aggregate amount individuals could give to multiple candidates and party committees within the existing base limits, on grounds that those aggregate limits served no “plausible” anti-circumvention objective given the existence of base limits. 

To read the full brief, click here.