Has anything changed in the world of campaign finance that might give pause to the five members of the Supreme Court who decided Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission exactly 28 months ago Monday? Or, to be more precise, has anything changed in the mind of at least one of them? The court faces that question in a flurry of contradictory arguments prompted by a decision by the Montana Supreme Court late last year. In upholding a 100-year-old state law, the Montana justices seemed to be openly defying Citizens United’s holding that the First Amendment grants corporations, and by extension labor unions, the right to spend unlimited amounts of their treasuries to support or oppose candidates.
The Supreme Court has already blocked the Montana decision, and the justices may simply set their counterparts in Helena straight by summarily reversing the finding. But pressure is being applied — by members of Congress and nearly half the states, not to mention Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer — to at least let Montana make its argument.
The Montana Supreme Court acknowledged a conflict when it voted 5 to 2 to uphold the state law, created by voters in 1912 to combat the power of the so-called Copper Kings who controlled state politics. It said the state’s characteristics, including a dependence on agriculture and mining and low campaign costs, made it “especially vulnerable” to corporate control.