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Judge tosses Montana campaign finance limits

Associated Press Modified: October 3, 2012 at 7:01 pm •  Published: October 3, 2012

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A federal judge on Wednesday struck down Montana's campaign contribution limits as unconstitutional, a decision that comes less than a month before Election Day and marks the latest in a string of court rulings against the state's campaign laws.

Barring an appeal that stays the judge's order, the ruling means individuals and political parties can dump unlimited amounts of money into the coffers of their preferred candidate at the very peak of the campaign season. The conservative group that brought the lawsuit to overturn the limits applauded the decision.

The state promised to file an emergency stay with 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeals, hoping to block the judge's decision until it can be reviewed.

U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell, who issued the decision three weeks after a trial, said current limits prevent Montana candidates from amassing the money needed to run an effective campaign. It affects all races in the state from the governor on down, but does not affect federal races for the U.S. House and Senate that are covered under other laws.

Lovell issued only a short ruling Wednesday, promising more details later of the order, which blocks the state from enforcing its campaign contribution limits.

"This court will in due course issue complete and extensive findings of fact and conclusions of law that support this order," the judge wrote. "They will be filed separately, though, so that this order can be issued before voting begins in the upcoming election."

Conservative activists, corporations, and Republican groups argued that the contribution limits are unconstitutionally low and prevent effective campaigning. The effort was joined by American Tradition Partnership, a conservative group based in the Washington, D.C., area that has fought state efforts to force it to disclose its donors.

"The old contributions limits were so low candidates had no choice but to grovel before special interests to get elected," ATP Montana Director Doug Lair said in a statement. "The political establishment can't tell citizens to shut up because they've reached their speech limit."

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