Montana Stop Overspending (2006)

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Montana Stop Overspending, also known as Constitutional Initiative 97 or just "CI-97," was a hotly contested ballot measure intended for the November 2006 Montana ballot. Had it qualified for the ballot and become law, it would have added a new constitutional amendment to the Montana Constitution limiting the rate of future growth of state government spending to an index related to population growth and inflation. As such, it was an example of a Taxpayer Bill of Rights amendment.


"Yes CI-97 Stop Overspending Montana," headed by Trevis Butcher, was the primary political committee supporting the measure. Financial support for that committee, in turn, came from Montanans In Action.


Not in Montana: Citizens Against CI-97 was the primary political committee opposing the measure. On June 15, 2006, the head of the committee, Eric Feaver, told the Helena Independent Record that his union--the MEA-MFT--was "prepared to spend whatever it can to defeat the measure or get it disqualified by the courts."[1]

Ballot access

To qualify for the ballot, supporters needed to turn in approximately 44,600 valid signatures no later than June 23, 2006. On that date, the committee turned in approximately 84,000 signatures. County election administrators who examined the signatures eventually certified that 47,905 of these signatures were valid, and the Montana Secretary of State on August 24, 2006 announced that it would appear on the November 2006 ballot.

Post-certification signature challenge

Once the measure was certified for the ballot, the measure's opponents commenced a post-certification signature challenge lawsuit against the state of Montana. The two main claims against the signatures made by the opponents were that some signatures were obtained in a deceptive manner and that some circulators had falsely sworn on the affidavit portion of the petitions.

This privately funded effort succeeded when Dirk Sandefur, a state district judge ruled on September 12, 2006 that the initiative should not appear on the ballot due to what he described as "pervasive fraud" by circulators.[2] The decision to throw the initiative off the ballot was appealed, unsuccessfully, to the Montana Supreme Court.[3] In this appeal, CI-97's supporters argued that their opponent's claims against CI-97 were barred by laches, that their due process rights were violated by Sandefur's district court because Sandefur expedited the hearing on the lawsuit against CI-97 and denied the supporter's request for additional time for discovery, and erred in its conclusions.

Lawsuit from opponents about violation of single-subject rule

Once the measure had been certified for the ballot, Not In Montana filed a lawsuit alleging that the measure should not appear on the ballot because it violated Montana's single-subject rule. The First Judicial District Court in Lewis & Clark County agreed with the plaintiffs that the measure violated the single-subject rule. When CI-97's supporters, and the state of Montana, appealed this lower court ruling to the Montana Supreme Court, that court declined to overturn the lower court's ruling. The basis for this decision is that a ruling in favor of the initiative was moot, since it had already been disqualified from the ballot in a separate lawsuit based on insufficiency of valid signatures.[4]

Complaint against police detective Brett Lund

Not In Montana retained Brett Lund, a detective in the Billings, Montana, police department, and owner of a private business ("Rocky Mountain Crime Consultants") to conduct handwriting analysis of the signatures--comparing the signatures on the petition sheets to signatures on file for the voters. They were especially interested in the signatures collected by circulator Marvin King.

Prior to Lund's assignment commencing, however, "Not In Montana" decided that signatures were authentic and elected not to retain Mr. Lund beyond one day of service, for which they paid him $544.50. However, he had already entered into discussions with NIM about Marvin King, including conversations about King's address. Subsequently, while at work, police detective Lund entered into an investigation of King's address. Because Lund made inquiries about King while at work, Butcher filed a complaint with Dennis Unsworth, the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices, asking Unsworth to determine whether Lund had violated a state statute forbidding public employees to campaign for or against ballot measures using government resources. Unsworth ruled that Lund had not broken this law.[5]

See also

External links


  1. 230K spent on ballot petitions (dead link)
  2. Initiatives part of national effort (dead link) Mike Dennison, Montana Standard, September 25, 2006
  3. Montanans for Justice v. State of Montana and Montanans In Action Montana Supreme Court opinion, October 26, 2006
  4. Not in Montana v. State of Montana and Stop Overspending Montana Montana Supreme Court Opinion and Order, October 27, 2006
  5. Lund Decision (dead link) Montana Political Practices Commission

FEC Complaint