In it, but not of it. TPM DC

The political science research project gone wrong that roiled Montana in the run-up to the November elections has now gotten two elite universities into a heap of legal trouble -- and could create all kinds of new headaches for social science researchers.

In a report released Tuesday, Montana's commissioner of political practices found that the mailers researchers from Stanford and Dartmouth sent to more than 100,000 Montana voters last fall amounted to advocating for particular candidates. That advocacy triggered state law requirements for the universities themselves to register as political committees and report their campaign expenditures, which the universities failed to do.

“They could legally make this expenditure,” commissioner Jonathan Motl told TPM on Tuesday, referring to the thousands of dollars the researchers likely spent in sending mailers to Montana voters. “But they had to register as a political committee, report the expenditure and disclose the source of the money for the expenditure.”

On top of the failure to register and make the required disclosures, Motl also found that the researchers use of the Montana state seal on the flyer was a potential criminal law violation. Motl has referred the allegedly improper use of the state seal to the local prosecutor for potential criminal prosecution, and the failure to register and disclose campaign expenditure to the same prosecutor for potential civil prosecution.

Stanford and Dartmouth were highly critical of the findings in Tuesday's report and maintain that while there were errors made in the conduct of the research project, that they did not amount to state law violations.

“This was an academic research project. It was not partisan, and it was not intended to advance or oppose any candidate,” Diana Lawrence, Dartmouth’s director of media relations, said to TPM by email.

How could a political science research project have gone so wrong?

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Texas lawmakers are gearing up to pass one of the country's most aggressively anti-same-sex-marriage bills this week. The bill, HB 4105, would prohibit state and local governments from recognizing, granting or enforcing same-sex marriage licenses. More than half of the members of Texas' House of Representatives have signed on as co-sponsors to the bill, making its passage in that chamber likely before the Thursday deadline the House has for House bills to be heard on the House floor.

The measure’s sponsors say it is a pre-emptive move ahead of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling expected in June that could legalize same-sex marriage nationwide.

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Again and again gay marriage has proven to be a tough issue for 2016 Republican candidates to navigate. Top-tier declared and would-be candidates like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) have tripped up over addressing questions on attending same-sex weddings and associating with people who support gay marriage or gay rights.

That's only been exacerbated by fights over controversial anti-gay religious freedom bills in a trio of states that have pushed these candidates to either embrace those bills and alienate major companies that could be helpful fundraising sources or infuriate key conservative constituencies that oppose gay rights.

Behold the five biggest trip-ups so far:

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