TABOR on Trial II: Montana

Montana’s version of TABOR, Constitutional Initiative 97 (or CI-97), hasn’t officially made the ballot yet. Its signatures still await certification by Sec’y of State Brad Johnson. That could come as soon as this Friday.

Or maybe not. The CI-97 signature-gathering operation, led by a one-man committee called Montanans in Action (MIA), bears all the same sleazy hallmarks — shady funding, out-of-state petitioneers, misleading wording — as TABOR campaigns in Missouri, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and elsewhere. So opponents have a range of legal challenges to mount against the campaign, any one of which — if successful — could keep the measure off the ballot.“We have an ongoing legal challenge,” says Jackie Boyle, coordinator of Not in Montana: Citizens Against CI-97. That action revolves around the ballot language of CI-97, which was altered in the middle of the signature-gathering period. The revised language came at the behest of MIA itself, which sued for the altered wording — the original form was apparently not confusing enough to suit MIA’s purposes.

On June 14 a district-court judge approved new ballot language, and signature gatherers then went forth with revised petitions. So Not in Montana immediately filed a motion to disqualify all of the signatures collected under the old ballot language. The state attorney general filed a separate motion to the same effect.

Both challenges have moved up to the state Supreme Court, which is expected to rule next month.

Not in Montana also has filed complaints with the state’s Office of Political Practices over the conduct of the CI-97 petition circulators.

“We’ve never had out-of-state circulators in Montana before,” says Boyle, “so it’s totally new ground for us. We’re trying to learn from other states, looking really hard at the signature gatherers.”

Think Progress detailed some of the dirty tricks employed to wrangle signatures from unwilling or unwitting Big Sky voters. Those challenges, if upheld, could result in the disqualification of signatures.

Meanwhile, a private attorney named Jonathan Motl has launched an attack on MIA’s funding. The so-called committee — which in fact consists solely of a small-town farmer named Trevis Butcher — categorizes itself as an educational group, which exempts it from financial disclosure requirements. But MIA’s only activities — funding the petition process for CI-97 and two other ballot measures — have been political in nature, hence subject to disclosure rules.

“They have spent $590,000 on signatures in this state, which is outrageous,” Boyle says. “That’s to collect fewer than 100,000 signatures. [The legal requirement to get on the ballot is only 44,000.] Not knowing who is funding Montanans in Action seems to us a pretty blatant violation of the law.”

Boyle adds, however, that even if Motl wins his case, that alone would not be enough to keep CI-97 off the ballot. “It would probably just result in some fines [for MIA],” says Boyle. “The initiative would still go onto the ballot.”

If all else fails, says Boyle, “we’ll still mount a single-issue challenge.” And if CI-97 survives the legal gauntlet and appear on the ballot come November? “We’ll have some resources,” she says. “But you never know what voters are gonna do.”

You can find Not in Montana on the web at http://www.notinmontana.org.

Check out TABOR on Trial I: Missouri

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Bob Spencer

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