Helena, Mont.— Today the US Supreme Court denied Montanans for Community Development’s final request to challenge the constitutionality of Montana’s Disclose Act. The act, passed with bipartisan support by the 2015 Montana Legislature, required that groups who engage in last minute advertising in elections must make public how they spend money to influence Montana’s elections.
The Court’s decision upheld citizens’ right to know who is spending money to influence Montana’s elections. The ruling rejects the argument that Montana’s Disclose Act interferes with the free speech of groups that spend money to influence Montana’s elections without disclosing what their money buys.
Shortly after the Disclose Act passed the 2015 Legislature, a group named Montanans for Community Development (MCD) sued the State of Montana claiming that the new laws and rules were an unconstitutional restriction and burden on their First Amendment right to speak.
“Montanans’ mailboxes and digital feeds are inundated with political ads from organizations that would prefer to remain unidentified and spend money without public disclosure. The Supreme Court affirmed that the public’s right to know how money influences Montana’s elections trumps these groups’ desire to remain unnamed and spend untraceable money,” said Montana Commissioner of Political Practices, Jeff Mangan.
On October 31, 2017, Judge Christiansen of the US District Court of Montana upheld the Disclose Act’s laws and regulations as constitutional, holding “[d]isclosure requirements are constitutional because though they ‘may burden the ability to speak . . . [they] do not prevent anyone from speaking,’” citing to Citizen’s United. MCD appealed the order to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, who issued an order upholding Montana’s Disclose Act as constitutional on May 22, 2018.
Last September, MCD asked the US Supreme Court to review the Montana District Court and the 9th Circuit’s Orders. MCD argued that Montana did not have the right to require disclosure by groups who do not have a ‘major purpose’ to spend money on political activity. The Disclose Act uses a sliding scale of disclosure which increases as a group’s activity increases which the Courts have consistently upheld as a reasonable burden on political activity.
Today, the US Supreme Court denied MCD’s argument that only ‘major purpose’ groups could be required to disclose to Montanans who was trying to influence their votes. “The Supreme Court’s decision today is another win for transparency for Montana’s elections. Montana’s commitment to transparent, fair, and accountable elections is reinforced and the highest court has reaffirmed that the citizens’ right to know has more value than money could ever define.”
The Commissioner would like to thank the Montana Attorney General’s office whose dedicated attorneys have defended the Disclose Act and Montanan’s rights on this case for the past four years.
The mission of the Commissioner of Political Practices is to promote confidence, transparency, and accountability in Montana’s democratic processes. Additional information about campaign finance disclosure requirements are available on the Commissioner of Political Practices’ website.