The fate of Montana’s century-old ban on corporate political spending is now in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court, setting up a possible sequel to the hotly contested Citizens United decision handed down two years ago. In 2010, a five-member majority of the U.S. Supreme Court declared that corporations’ independent spending in elections does not corrupt — or even appear to corrupt — the political process. On Wednesday, Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock submitted a brief to the Court with facts that suggest otherwise as he urged the justices to uphold his state’s ban on corporate political spending.
The case, Western Tradition Partnership v. Bullock, comes up from the Montana Supreme Court, which in December adopted the attorney general’s arguments to hold that the state’s history of corporate-driven corruption dating back to the Gilded Age justified that Montana’s Corrupt Practices Act is still valid. The law, passed by voter referendum in 1912, says that a “corporation may not make … an expenditure in connection with a candidate or a political party that supports or opposes a candidate or a political party.”
Last week, American Tradition Partnership (formerly known as Western Tradition Partnership) and the two other corporations that originally brought suit in Montana courts against the Corrupt Practices Act filed a stay application with Justice Anthony Kennedy to suspend the state supreme court’s judgment and refer the case to his colleagues for reversal. James Bopp Jr., a committed foe of campaign finance laws and architect of the Citizens United litigation, is representing them.
Because “Montana’s primary elections are on June 5, 2012,” wrote Bopp, “[i]mmediate relief is needed to prevent irreparable harm to the Corporations’ First Amendment free-speech right” to make independent campaign expenditures. Normally, those petitioning for Supreme Court review call themselves “Petitioners.” Bopp, however, chose to refer to his clients as “the Corporations,” suggesting that there is no shame in advocating for entities whose political spending has become the focus of partisan controversy since Citizens United.