Montana Republicans have had more fun this year than in the last 16 when their creativity was blocked by a Democratic governor. This year they advanced a couple of ideas that might look good to those who don’t like environmental litigation. However, they were too extreme for even a supermajority legislature and a Republican governor.
A measure introduced late last week by Sen. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip, that would have directed the Department of Justice to investigate environmental groups is likely dead after a free conference committee voted to strike it from House Bill 693. Among other things, Ankney’s amendment would have empowered the Department of Justice to investigate environmental groups’ membership lists, funding, engagement in political speech, and influence on the government’s regulatory or permitting actions.
Democrats on the committee questioned if the measure would hold up to a judicial challenge and said they were troubled by the lack of a definition for “environmental organization.” Sen. Ellie Boldman, D-Missoula, wondered aloud if groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation would be subject to investigation. Ankney replied that was not his intention. Earlier in the meeting he’d said that his bill was directed at investigating groups that target natural resources issues with rhetoric.
Governor Greg Gianforte on May 14 vetoed SB 278, a bill that contained provisions designed to penalize nonprofit environmental organizations. SB 278 would make nonprofit legal actions “challenging or supporting a government action” a taxable action under unrelated business income, and also require a nonprofit that challenges or supports a government action to – “under penalty or perjury” – file documentation with the Montana Attorney General listing the source of each donation over $50.
There would be serious constitutional questions about “rhetoric” (also known as “freedom of speech”), but I’m sure that won’t stop them from trying again.