Western Tradition Partnership Executive Director Donald Ferguson released the following statement Friday morning concerning the latest lawsuit filed against Montana Political Practices Commissioner Dennis Unsworth:
“Western Tradition Partnership (WTP) noted with interest today the suit filed against Montana Political Practices Commissioner Dennis Unsworth by the organization “Montana Shrugged.” In that suit, Montana Shrugged sued the Commissioner to prevent him and the State of Montana from enforcing unconstitutional provisions of Montana’s campaign finance laws that infringe upon their constitutionally-protected political activities.
“WTP made these unconstitutional provisions of Montana law known to Commissioner Unsworth long before Montana Shrugged filed their lawsuit. Yet, despite WTP’s good faith efforts to work with the Commissioner to ensure he did not waste Montana taxpayer money on frivolous investigations that violate the free speech rights of WTP and other persons who speak about issues in Montana, the Commissioner recently released an unsupported and poorly written opinion attacking WTP’s independent expenditures.
“The Commissioner made this assertion despite knowing the United States Supreme Court categorically stated independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption. Therefore, as Montana Shrugged has asserted in its lawsuit, and as we have made known to Commissioner all along, the State has no interest in banning or regulating the political speech of WTP or any other association in Montana.
“WTP is in the process of preparing its own lawsuit against Commissioner Unsworth for his actions which violate WTP’s First Amendment rights, and for his politically-timed smear attack against WTP and other conservative issue groups in Montana.
“The claims to be asserted by WTP will track those made by Montana Shrugged, and will go further to assert the Commissioner’s entire regulatory and investigative process violates the due process clause of the United States Constitution because there is no meaningful opportunity for a group, like ours, to defend against or refute unsubstantiated and mean-spirited allegations before the Commissioner makes a violation determination.
“The Commissioner has a terrible track record of violating Montana’s First Amendment rights, recently being rebuked by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for “petty bureaucratic harassment” of a church in Helena. That suit cost the State over $200,000 and, as indicated by the lawsuit filed by Montana Shrugged, the Commissioner’s unconstitutional actions in that case and our legal case could cost state taxpayers even more.
“WTP has always obeyed all applicable, constitutional laws and engages in lawful public education campaigns and citizen-powered lobbying of policy-makers. We are disappointed the Commissioner is using his office to try to enforce clearly unconstitutional laws, and against lawful organizations like ours.
“We strongly encourage the Montana Legislature to conduct oversight of this office during the 2011 legislature, to reform the State’s tragically broken campaign finance laws, and to ensure the person charged with enforcing Montana’s campaign finance laws is not a partisan, political appointee. Though WTP has suffered an unfair attack as a result of the Commissioner’s unconstitutional actions, WTP is hopeful some good will come out of its efforts to uphold the First Amendment and real reform for the better will occur.”
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