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January 04, 2012
Ban on Corporate Political Spending Upheld in Montana
    by Robert Kropp

The Montana Supreme Court rules in favor of reinstating the state's century-old ban on direct political spending by corporations.

In a 5-2 decision last Friday, the Montana Supreme Court overturned a District Court ruling and reinstated the state's century-old prohibition against political expenditures by corporations to support or oppose candidates for public office.

In the Western Tradition Partnership case, the Montana Supreme Court also decided that while corporations can form political action committees (PACs) and hire lobbyists, they must file disclosures on how they raised money and spent it on elections.

The Court argued that the 2010 Citizens United decision by the US Supreme Court did not invalidate Montana's political spending law.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Mike McGrath stated, "Citizens United does not compel a conclusion that Montana's law prohibiting independent political expenditures by a corporation related to a candidate is unconstitutional. Rather, applying the principles enunciated in Citizens United, it is clear that Montana has a compelling interest to impose the challenged rationally tailored statutory restriction."

Even a dissenting opinion, by Justice James Nelson, questioned Citizens United.

"It is utter nonsense to think that ordinary citizens or candidates can spend enough to place their experience, wisdom, and views before the voters and keep pace with the virtually unlimited spending capability of corporations to place corporate views before the electorate," Nelson wrote. "Experience teaches that money corrupts, and enough of it corrupts absolutely."

Montana enacted its ban on corporate political spending in 1912, in response to widespread bribery and corruption by the so-called Copper Kings. Chief Justice McGrath wrote in the majority decision, "This naked corporate manipulation of the very government (governor and Legislature) of the state ultimately resulted in populist reforms that are still part of Montana law."

The Court also determined that Western Tradition Partnership acts "as a conduit of funds for persons and entities including corporations who want to spend money anonymously to influence Montana elections."

Western Tradition Partnership, which changed its name to American Tradition Partnership in 2010, describes itself as "a no-compromise grassroots organization dedicated to fighting the radical environmentalist agenda."

Attorney General Steve Bullock described the ruling as the first to address laws regarding elections at the state level.

On the federal level, support for a constitutional amendment reversing the Citizens United decision appears to be growing. In November, a group of Democratic Senators introduced an amendment that would give Congress the authority to regulate political spending by corporations and other entities.

And Move to Amend has proposed an amendment that seeks to return the rights protected by the Constitution to natural persons only, and prevent the judiciary from ruling that spending money to influence elections is speech under the First Amendment.

The organization has also called for a one-day occupation of Federal courthouses, including the Supreme Court, on January 20, the second anniversary of the Citizens United decision.


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