The Flathead Valley’s Leading Independent Journal of Observation, Analysis, & Opinion. © James R. Conner.


4 October 2012

Let’s not let Judge Lovell’s campaign contributions crisis go to waste

Yesterday, Senior Federal Judge Charles Lovell ruled that limits on individual campaign contributions to candidates for state office are unconstitutional. Montana now becomes the 14th state without limits on individual contributions to state candidates.

Lovell’s five-page decision/order (PDF) was a rush job, apparently intended to give deep pocketed contributors as much time as possible to do damage before the election. A full decision will be handed down later. We’ll have to wait for the full decision to know for sure whether Lovell thinks contribution limits are unconstitutional per se, or just that Montana’s limits are so low as to have the practical effect of unconstitutionally suppressing free speech.

Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock says Montana will ask the Ninth Circuit Court of appeals for an emergency stay. Rick Hasen at the Election Law Blog thinks the stay could be granted, but seems less optimistic that Lovell’s decision will be overturned in the long run.

Both Montana Cowgirl and Intelligent Discontent have posts and discussions on the decision. Tyler Evilsizer’s post at Intelligent is especially good and has links to the decision and other useful information.

In the meantime, it would not surprise me to learn that hundreds of thousands of dollars have already been deposited in the campaign accounts of Rick Hill, Tim Fox, and others.

My preferred solution — public financing and a smaller legislature

Unlimited contributions allow wealthy contributors to make de facto purchases or rentals of politicians. And there are always politicians willing to be bought or rented. That’s why Montana and other states imposed limits on the size of contributions.

One solution would be passing new, higher, contributions in the 2013 legislature.

A better solution is mandatory public financing coupled with changes in the size of the legislature and ballot qualification requirements:

Amend Montana’s constitution to reduce the legislature’s house of representatives to 48 members, keeping two-year terms, and the legislature’s senate to 24 members, keeping four-year terms.

Increase filing fees to at least $250 for house candidates, $500 for senate candidates, and $5,000 for statewide candidates.

Require all candidates — yes, even candidates of established parties — to obtain a significant number of signatures of registered voters to qualify for the ballot.

Those changes would make it harder for party-of-one screwballs, crackpots, cranks, and fools, to clutter the ballot and introduce noise into the campaign, but it would not deny access to the ballot to anyone willing make sense and work hard.

Finally, I would replace Montana’s plurality wins system with instant runoff voting, eliminate term limits, and allow legislative sessions of unlimited duration.

Judge Lovell has generated a crisis. Let’s not let it go to waste.