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Montana governor repeals directives made by former governor

February 12, 2021 GMT

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Republican Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, who lifted the state’s mask mandate on Friday, also repealed two other executive orders issued by former Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock.

One required companies to report political spending if they wanted to bid on large state contracts and the second allowed counties to decide if they wanted to hold the November 2020 general election mostly by mail.

“Our Constitution makes it plain as day: the Legislature makes our laws, not the governor and not the courts,” Gianforte said in a statement. “It’s the responsibility of our Legislature to determine how Montana’s elections are conducted, and it’s the responsibility of our Legislature to determine whether an individual must disclose donations to a nonprofit group.”

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Both of Bullock’s executive orders were unsuccessfully challenged in court.

Bullock’s political spending order required companies bidding for certain state contracts to disclose political donations made within 60 days of an election. Opponents argued it violated companies’ First Amendment rights and raised the possibility that a company’s donations could lead to retaliation.

A federal judge rejected a challenge to the executive order made by the Illinois Opportunity Project, saying the organization could not prove it would be adversely affected. A notice of appeal was filed in September, but an appeal has not been filed.

Bullock issued another executive order at the request of county election clerks in August, allowing them to expand voting by mail for the November general election to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The order also required counties to offer in-person voting, but it did not require polling places to be open on Election Day.

The campaign of former President Donald Trump along with federal, state and county Republican Party groups challenged that order in federal court, arguing it would lead to election fraud. U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen rejected the challenge, saying there was no record of election fraud in Montana in the past 20 years.

Joe Lamm of Livingston, who was running for a state House seat, the Ravalli County Republican Central Committee and four Republican voters asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for an emergency injunction to block counties from mailing ballots.

The 9th Circuit denied the emergency injunction, but said it would hear arguments and set a briefing schedule if they wanted to pursue it. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a request for an emergency injunction on Oct. 8, the day before ballots were mailed.

Attorney James Bopp said he has filed an appeal of Lamm’s case to the 9th Circuit and opening briefs are due next month. They are still determining what course to take considering Gianforte’s repeal of the order, Bopp said Friday.

Lamm’s case argues Bullock issued the order in violation of state law that says regularly scheduled federal elections cannot be conducted by mail ballot. Bullock argued he had authority under the emergency declaration made for the pandemic.

The Republican Party groups did not challenge a similar order by Bullock that allowed the June primary election to be held mostly by mail to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.