Statement: Federal judge issues order in Montana donor privacy challenge

HELENA, Mont. (Jan. 2, 2020) – Today, a federal judge issued an order in the lawsuit Illinois Opportunity Project v. Bullock. The lawsuit challenges an executive order Gov. Bullock issued in 2018 that requires companies that wish to bid on state contracts to publicly report which issue advocacy organizations they support.

U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell has asked Illinois Opportunity Project to amend and refile the complaint by Jan. 21. The Liberty Justice Center is reviewing the judge’s order together with our client Illinois Opportunity Project to determine what our the next steps will be.

Daniel Suhr, attorney at the Liberty Justice Center, offered the following statement:

“Privacy is a fundamental constitutional right and every American has the right to support causes they believe in without fear of being outed, shamed, harassed or intimidated. Our next step in this case will be based on protecting that principle.”

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