Election Research by Dartmouth and Stanford Broke Montana Law, State Says

Researchers at Dartmouth College and Stanford University broke Montana campaign laws by mailing fliers to more than 100,000 residents, the state’s chief campaign regulator said on Tuesday. The Associated Press reports that Jonathan Motl, commissioner of political practices, said fliers sent by the political-science professors amounted to campaign advocacy, which must be disclosed under state law.

Controversy erupted last year after residents received informational leaflets bearing the state seal that placed candidates for a judicial race on a partisan spectrum. Residents complained, and criticism came flooding in from others in the discipline. The two institutions apologized for the research and sent a joint letter of apology to the addressees in the study.

A Stanford spokeswoman, Lisa Lapin, told the AP that the professors’ work was not advocacy and was protected under the First Amendment. A Dartmouth spokeswoman, Diana Lawrence, said the college disagreed with Mr. Motl’s determination. The regulator has presented his findings to a state prosecutor to be reviewed.

The researchers, Jonathan Rodden and Adam Bonica of Stanford and Kyle Dropp of Dartmouth, were attempting to measure how information on candidates influences voter turnout.

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