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District Court Deals Blow to Montana's "Truth in Labeling" Law

 

August 26, 2020 | View PDF



On April 14 political action committee (PAC), Doctors for a Healthy Montana, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against MT Attorney General Tim Fox and Commissioner of Political Practices (COPP) Jeffery Mangan. The group claims the statute cited by Rep. Joel Krautter, R-Sidney, in his complaint filed with COPP on April 7 serves no useful purpose and should be repealed. The suit asks a judge to declare the statute unconstitutional and award the PAC cost relief including the cost of litigation.

The statute, the Political Committee Naming & Labeling Act, requires the name of a political committee identify the economic interest, special interest or employer of a majority of the committee’s contributors. Krautter’s April 7 complaint alleges Doctors for a Healthy Montana violates this statute because only one of the four contributors is actually a doctor. The complaint asks the COPP to take appropriate action against the group for using a misleading name.

The group has purchased billboard and Facebook advertising questioning Krautter’s conservative ideology due to his vote in favor of House Bill 658, which supported Medicaid expansion. Pro-life supporters across the state feel this bill supports public funding of abortions.

On Aug. 12 U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen ruled in favor of Doctors for a Healthy Montana. In his decision he states, “The Facts of this case illuminate the problems with the statute. ‘Doctors for a Healthy Montana’ was a misleading name at the time that the Sidney billboard was leased, when three of five contributors were Montana legislators. But the name arguably remains misleading, even now that the contributors have changed, as it suggests that the group comprises experts in healthcare targeting healthcare policy, when in reality the group describes its points of commonality as being ‘conservative Christians, strong supporters of the Second Amendment, and champions of lower taxation and government regulation.’ However, at no point can it be said that the name was factually incorrect – there were always at least two doctor-contributors, even if one gave a de minimis amount, and ‘Healthy Montana’ is vague enough to never truly be false.”

A full copy of the court’s decision can be viewed here.

 

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