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National Association For Gun Rights, Inc. v. Motl

United States District Court, D. Montana, Helena Division

September 6, 2017

NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR GUN RIGHTS, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
JONATHAN MOTL, in his official capacity as the Commissioner of Political Practices for the State of Montana; TIMOTHY C. FOX, in his official capacity as Attorney General for the State of Montana; LEO GALLAGHER, in his official capacity as County Attorney for the County of Lewis & Clark, Defendants.

          ORDER

          DANA L. CHRISTENSEN, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment. Plaintiff National Association for Gun Rights, Inc. ("NAGR") argues that Montana's campaign finance disclosure requirements are unconstitutional. Specifically, NAGR contends that Montana impermissibly regulates "issue advocacy" by imposing reporting requirements for "electioneering communications." See Mont. Code Ann. § 13-1-101(15) (2015) (defining (electioneering communications"). NAGR also contends that Montana's vote disclosure statute, Montana Code Annotated ("MCA") § 13-35-225(3), is likewise unconstitutional. In response, Defendants Jonathan Motl, [1] Timothy C. Fox, and Leo Gallagher, in their official capacities (collectively "Defendants"), move for summary judgment arguing that Montana's regulation of electioneering communications satisfies constitutional scrutiny. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant Defendants' motion as it pertains to MCA 13-1-101(15). However, because Defendants do not contest Plaintiffs' challenge to MCA § 13-35-225(3), the Court will grant NAGR's motion in part and award summary judgment as to this claim only.

         I. Background

         A. National Association for Gun Rights, Inc.

         NAGR is a tax-exempt organization under Internal Revenue Code § 501(c)(4). See NAGR v. Murray, 969 F.Supp.2d 1262, 1264-1265 (D. Mont. Sept. 17, 2013) ("NAGR 7"). NAGR asserts that they are "a grassroots organization whose mission is to defend the right to keep and bear arms, and advance that God-given Constitutional right by educating the public and urging them to take action in the public policy process." (Doc. 37 at 3 (internal quotation marks omitted).) In 2012, NAGR sent several mailers ("2012 Mailer") to the residents in Flathead County, Montana, which discussed state Senator Bruce Tutvedt's alleged attempts to "kill" Senate Bill 371. This bill, which ultimately failed in the 2011 Montana legislative session, was entitled "[a]n act ensuring the availability of Montana ammunition; encouraging the formation of business in Montana primarily engaged in the manufacture of ammunition components." (Doc. 1 at 20.)

         The 2012 Mailer stated that "FACT: Flathead County was poised to get a new smokeless powder plant until Bruce Tutvedt took to the Senate Floor and demanded it be killed. (S.B. 371, 4/13/11 Audio) Now, thanks to Bruce Tutvedt, unemployment in the Flathead is nearly 11% percent." (Doc. 1 at 20 (emphasis in original).) The mailer further urged the recipient to "[c]ontact Bruce Tutvedt right away and DEMAND he apologize for killing new manufacturing in Flathead County." (Id. (emphasis in original).)

         As a result of this mailer, NAGR received a letter from Montana's Commissioner of Political Practices ("COPP") Jonathan Motl which found that NAGR, along with six other corporate entities, "failed to meet Montana campaign practice law and standards by failing to register, report and disclose . . . illegal corporate contributions for or against a . .. primary election candidate." (Id. at 33.) The letter also stated that there was sufficient evidence to show that NAGR "violated Montana's campaign practices laws as set out above and that civil adjudication of the violation is warranted." (Id. at 50.)

         B. Present Litigation

         In March of 2016, NAGR filed suit seeking three forms of relief. First, NAGR sought to enjoin Montana's COPP from pursuing civil penalties against the organization based on the 2012 Mailer. Second, as mentioned above, NAGR asserts that MCA § 13-1-101(15), which defines "electioneering communications, " a form of speech which triggers Montana's campaign finance disclosure requirements, is unconstitutionally overbroad and must be struck down. This statute states that:

(a) "electioneering communication" means a paid communication that is publicly distributed by radio, television, cable, satellite, internet website, newspaper, periodical, billboard, mail, or any other distribution of printed materials, that is made within 60 days of the initiation of voting in an election, that does not support or oppose a candidate or ballot issue, that can be received by more than 100 recipients in the district voting on the candidate or ballot issue, and that:
(i) refers to one or more clearly identified candidates in that election; (ii) depicts the name, image, likeness, or voice of one or more clearly identified candidates in that election; or
(iii) refers to a political party, ballot issue, or other question submitted to the voters in that election.
(b) The term does not mean:
(i) a bona fide news story, commentary, blog, or editorial distributed through the facilities of any broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, internet website, or other periodical publication of general circulation unless the facilities are owned or controlled by a candidate or political committee;
(ii) a communication by any membership organization or corporation to its members, stockholders, or employees;
(iii) a commercial communication that depicts a candidate's name, image, likeness, or voice only in the candidate's capacity as owner, operator, or employee of a business that existed prior to the candidacy;
(iv) a communication that constitutes a candidate debate or forum or that solely promotes a candidate debate or forum and is made by or on behalf of the person ...

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