May 13


montana judge voter guide

American voters are best informed when every voice is free and the mails and airwaves are filled with divergent views, forcefully expressed. Under the First Amendment, every American has the right to write, speak, broadcast and publicize his political views without government interference or permission. Recently, however, an army of well-meaning but misguided “reformers” have sought to place all manner of government restrictions on how much campaign advertising and broadcasting we are allowed to produce. Government agents have tried to ban everything from handing out flyers in parking lots to producing videos attacking politicians.

Now we read that three professors studying voter turnout in last year’s Montana judicial elections have been accused of violating campaign-finance laws just for sending out a research postcard (shown above)! The three political-science professors, Kyle Dropp of Dartmouth and Jonathan Rodden and Adam Bonica of Stanford, were seeking to find out whether Montana voters would become more engaged in the state’s judicial elections if they were informed that judicial candidates were identified along a “conservative” or “liberal” spectrum.

In Montana, state supreme-court judges are elected and nonpartisan. Candidates for the court appear on the ballot without any party designation. The professors wanted to see if providing information regarding candidates’ “conservative” or “liberal” leanings might influence voters to become more interested in Montana’s judicial elections. To study this, the professors mailed research postcards in 2014 to a sample of Montana voters in which 4 candidates for the State Supreme Court were identified along a political spectrum as liberal- or conservative-leaning.

Now the Montana State “Commissioner of Political Practices” has formally accused the professors of violating the State’s campaign-finance laws! The research postcards—with their designations indicating the candidates’ “conservative” or “liberal” identifications—are accused of being political advertising!

But which judicial candidates were the postcards supposedly “advertising?”

The Commissioner claims: “When it was mailed into the strongly Democratic precincts it was for [liberal judge candidate Mike] Wheat, because they put Wheat right on the line graph right next to Barack Obama,” Motl said. “When it was mailed into Republican precincts it was for [conservative judge candidate Lawrence] VanDyke because they put VanDyke right next to Romney.”

The State Commissioner of Political Practices has even included a claim that the professors violated THEIR OWN colleges’ human-subjects-research policies by failing to get proper approval from the institutional review boards of Stanford and Dartmouth—a claim far outside the Commissioner’s jurisdiction and outside even the jurisdiction of the State of Montana!

The Commissioner has referred the three out-of-state professors to the local county attorney for criminal prosecution! In the (likely) event the county attorney declines to prosecute the allegations, the Commissioner will, according to news reports, try to “negotiate a settlement or file a civil complaint.”

Stay tuned!