Should Montana Judges Accept Campaign Donations from Lawyers?
Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - According to a Montana state senator, it’s not against the law for a sitting judge to receive donations from an attorney that will have a case before that same judge.
To remedy the situation, Brad Molnar, State Senator from District 28 in Laurel, is submitting a bill before the upcoming Montana Legislature entitled ‘Shine the Light on Dark Money’.
Judges can Receive Campaign Donations from Lawyers who Appear Before Them?
“According to the judicial canons, a judge must not do anything that is considered to generate a view of impropriety, yet in the history of the state, judges have taken large donations from lawyers that will practice before them and receive support third-party donations in support of their candidacy, but they have never recused themselves from a case,” began Molnar.
State Senator Molnar Authored the 'Shine the Light on Dark Money' Bill
Molnar referenced one recent case that highlights the need for his bill.
“Recently one judge has been accused, but not found guilty, of asking attorneys at a fundraiser that normally bring cases before that judge for money,” he said. “I think that the people of Montana have a right to determine if dark money or donations should be used to promote a judge and that those that make the contributions will appear before on cases of interest (before those judges) to the state of Montana.”
Molnar said he has shown his bill to a large number of Montanans and found universal agreement.
“Every one of them said they were in solid support, solid support,” he said. “The individuals that I've talked to are not legislators. They're not necessarily political and they are amazed that a judge can take money from somebody that brings a case before them. They are amazed to find out that that's totally legal.”
Molnar Called out Judge who Struck Down Same Day Voter Registration
Molnar called out one particular District Court Judge that ruled that the same-day voter registration bill passed by the 2021 Montana Legislature was unconstitutional.
“Judge Moses is the one that is the one that said on that case, and he said even though the Constitution clearly gives that authority to the legislature, (Judge Moses said) I don't like it because they didn't give a good enough reason to change it,” he said. “We don't have to give a reason to change it because is our authority. If the people don't like it, they can boot us out. That's their authority. For that judge to say ‘it's allowed by the Constitution they have the authority I don't care’ is a serious problem. If you give money directly or indirectly, a judge must recuse.”
The bill asks that any attempt to 'circumvent the intentions of this act' be charged as a felony.