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
Even a dissenting opinion, by Justice James Nelson, questioned Citizens
"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
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
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."
Steve Bullock described the ruling as the first to address laws regarding elections at the state
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.
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.