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A Bozeman company is suing two state offices over a law dating back to 1912 that bans corporate spending in elections.

The suit brought by Champion Painting, along the Western Tradition Partnership, follows a recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that a federal ban on corporate spending in political campaigns violated the First Amendment, a ruling that Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock's office has said jeopardizes the state law.

Named in the suit are Bullock and Commissioner of Political Practices Dennis Unsworth.

Kevin O'Brien, a spokesman for the Montana Department of Justice, said the office stands by statements Bullock has made about the ruling and its implications for state law, but he would not comment on the merits of the latest lawsuit because the department was still reviewing it.

In a brief filed with the Supreme Court prior to its ruling, Bullock wrote that "corporate electioneering corrupts the relationship between public officials and the public interest by encouraging political dependence on narrowly concentrated private interests."

In a written release announcing the lawsuit, Champion Painting owner Ken Champion said he was concerned with rising spending, taxes and regulation threatening his business and wanted to use his business' financial resources to exercise First Amendment rights.

Donny Ferguson, a spokesman for WTP, said the lawsuit seeks to strike down the portion of the law banning corporations from spending money to advocate for an issue.

Champion, who ran as a Republican for the state House in 2008 on a small-government platform, is the chairman of the Bozeman tea party.

The lawsuit was filed in Helena District Court.

The law, which says a "corporation may not make a contribution on an expenditure with a candidate" or political action committee was passed by voter initiative in 1912.

When the Supreme Court struck down the federal act baring corporate spending in elections, the ruling was widely criticized for the implications it may have on political races.

However, a spokesman for the Denver-based Western Traditions Partnership said Montana's law gives government officials a "legally enforced monopoly on speech."

"Speaking out about issues of taxation and regulation that threaten employers are central to creating jobs and prosperity," said Ferguson.

 

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