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Federal court reinstates Montana’s contribution limits

HELENA, Mont. — The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reinstated Montana’s campaign donation limits, telling the federal judge who struck down the limits that the panel needs to see his full reasoning so it can review the case.

The court intervened late Tuesday less than a week after the judge’s decision opened the door to unlimited money in state elections — during the height of election season. In response, US District Judge Charles Lovell issued a 38-page conclusion Wednesday that reinforced his earlier decision finding that the state’s limits are too low to allow effective campaigning. He suggested the state Legislature would have a ‘‘clean canvas’’ to perhaps establish higher limits that could meet constitutional muster.

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The Ninth Circuit did not immediately respond, leaving the state limits in place for the time being, with Election Day less than a month away.

Montana limits range from $630 for an individual contributing to a governor’s race to $160 for a state House candidate. The amounts are adjusted each election cycle to account for inflation. The law also limited aggregate donations from political parties.

Conservative groups emboldened by the 2010 US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision have made Montana the center of the fight over many campaign finance restrictions. The groups have persuaded a federal judge to strike down several laws as unconstitutional, including the cap on contributions given to candidates by individuals and political parties.

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