Montana Governor Steve Bullock sued over violation of free speech, privacy laws

HELENA, Mont. (Aug. 28, 2019) – Americans’ right to support causes they believe in without fear of retaliation is at the center of a lawsuit filed today against Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and the head of that state’s procurement bureau. The lawsuit centers on an executive order Bullock issued in 2018 that requires companies that wish to bid on state contracts to publicly report which issue advocacy organizations they support.

The lawsuit was filed by the Illinois Opportunity Project, a nonpartisan, 501(c)4 organization that engages in issue advocacy. The Illinois Opportunity Project is represented in this case by attorneys from the Liberty Justice Center, best known for its 2018 Supreme Court win in the case Janus v. AFSCME.

The lawsuit, Illinois Opportunity Project v. Bullock, was filed on Aug. 27, 2019, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana.

“Americans have the right to support causes without intrusion or discrimination from the government,” said Patrick Hughes, president and co-founder of the Liberty Justice Center. “Forcing a person or group to disclose their contributions in order to be considered for work goes against our country’s founding principles as well as our current laws. Gov. Bullock should not be allowed to bully donors through an executive order. Liberty Justice Center is proud to represent the Illinois Opportunity Project in this case to defend these constitutional rights because everyone should be free to support causes in which they believe.”

“The Illinois Opportunity Project is fighting to uphold the First Amendment right of free speech so everyone is protected from retaliation and intimidation,” said Matthew Besler, president of the Illinois Opportunity Project. “The First Amendment guarantees each person the right to support causes without retaliation. We encourage robust policy discussions that affect change and improve lives, and we oppose laws that hinder individuals’ First Amendment rights. We will continue to fight so individuals can participate in public discourse without fear of retaliation.”

Background: In June 2018, Gov. Bullock issued Executive Order 15-2018 which mandates that state agencies require companies bidding on contracts for business from the state disclose donations made to organizations advocating for issues, candidates or political parties within 60 days of an election.

IOP plans to engage in issue advocacy in Montana prior to the 2020 election, but its speech will be unconstitutionally chilled if its supporters must disclose their past donations. Across the nation, we are seeing the harsh reality of retaliation based on people’s public support for candidates and causes: people losing jobs, property destroyed, even death threats. Especially in such politically charged times, the First Amendment is an essential protection for the principle that it’s the ideas and issues themselves that matter, not the individuals who choose to financially support them.

Through his executive order, Gov. Bullock undermines those rights and leaves businesses open to discrimination and retaliation based on their issue advocacy. The action does nothing to prevent corruption in the state contract bidding process and instead has the effect – intended or not – of silencing organizations that may disagree with him but are seeking a state contract.

The case is available here: https://libertyjusticecenter.org/cases/illinois-opportunity-project-v-bullock