As part of the state’s new election disclosure law, Montana’s commissioner of political practices has proposed a rule aimed at attack ads masquerading as educational. It has become common for “social welfare” organizations to send postcards to voters or broadcast TV ads in the days before an election. State Sen. Bruce Tutvedt, R-Kalispell, has a pending political practices complaint against the Taxpayers for Liberty, the National Association for Gun Rights and American Tradition Partnership, among others, which includes examples of attack ads that would be considered electioneering under the new rule.
Montana: Attorney submits initiative to fill Senate vacancies by special election | Associated Press
A Helena attorney submitted a ballot initiative proposal Tuesday that would change Montana law to remove the power of filling U.S. Senate vacancies from the governor and instead require special elections. The process was in the spotlight last month when Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock named his lieutenant governor, John Walsh, to replace longtime U.S. Sen. Max Baucus. Republican legislative leaders criticized Bullock’s selection, saying it was done in secrecy and with no input from the public. The proposal by attorney James Brown calls for holding a special primary election within 60 days of the governor being notified of a Senate vacancy. The primary would be followed by a special general election between 50 and 85 days later. The winner would serve until the next regular general election.
A political group that has gained notoriety for challenging campaign restrictions on corporations was fined $260,000 on Tuesday after a judge said it failed to disclose spending. The civil penalty levied against American Tradition Partnership, which is organized as a nonprofit corporation, demonstrated that new campaign freedoms extended to corporations don’t make them immune to state disclosure laws. District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock said in his order that the group has shown “complete disregard” for the laws of Montana, its courts, and the tradition of free and open elections. The case involves attack ads mailed by the group in 2008 denouncing candidates. Officials say it did not report the spending as political activity to the state commissioner of political practices. The group, which was headquartered in Montana then Colorado and the Washington, D.C., area, has challenged state campaign finance laws and targeted moderate Republican legislators and Democrats with harsh campaign ads.
In a sharply worded ruling, a federal judge in Montana said Tuesday that documents found inside a Colorado meth house pointing to possible election law violations will not be returned to the couple claiming the papers were stolen from one of their cars. Instead, the thousands of pages will remain where they are — with a federal grand jury in Montana, investigating the dark money group American Tradition Partnership, once known as Western Tradition Partnership, or WTP. The documents, detailed last fall in aFrontline documentary and ProPublica coverage, point to possible illegal coordination between candidates and WTP, which since 2008 has worked to replace moderate Republicans with more conservative candidates in both Montana and Colorado. The documents, including a folder labeled “Montana $ Bomb,” provided the first real glimpse inside a dark money group. Such so-called social welfare nonprofits, which have poured more than $350 million into federal election ads in recent years, don’t have to disclose their donors.
No one showed up to oppose a bill Friday to tighten and make more specific some of Montana’s campaign finance laws after a federal judge struck down some of them as unconstitutionally vague last year. At issue before the House State Administration Committee was House Bill 129 by Rep. Steve Gibson, R-East Helena. The bill came after U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell of Helena struck down some state laws last year in a lawsuit filed by American Tradition Partnership. They included the state’s political civil libel law, which made it illegal to misrepresent a candidate’s voting record.
Montana: Judge throws book at American Tradition Partnership again; finds that it violated multiple state laws on disclosure | Helenair
The conservative “dark money” political group fighting state efforts to force disclosure of its finances lost another key court decision Friday, as a state judge ruled that it violated multiple state campaign-finance and election laws. District Judge Jeff Sherlock, of Helena, citing American Tradition Partnership’s continued failure to produce records requested by the state and the court, adopted the state’s proposed findings that ATP acted as political committee in 2008 and therefore must report its spending and donors. Sherlock ruled that members and officers of ATP used its corporate, nonprofit status “as a subterfuge to avoid compliance with state disclosure and disclaimer laws during the 2008 Montana election cycle.”
The Supreme Court’s Monday ruling to strike Montana’s ban on corporate campaign spending opens a new chapter in the political money wars, fueling an improbable but increasingly vocal movement to amend the Constitution. “This Supreme Court ruling could be a watershed in terms of the court aligning itself with the interests of big corporations,” said Jamie Raskin, a Maryland state Senator and law professor at American University’s Washington College of Law. “And the constitutional amendment strategy will be a way to plant the flag and rally people for a different vision of the Constitution and the country.” More than a dozen Members of Congress have proposed various constitutional amendments in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling to deregulate corporate and union political spending. Some declare that corporations are not people; others empower Congress and the states to restrict campaign spending and contributions.
The Supreme Court has struck down a Montana ban on corporate political money, ruling 5 to 4 that the controversial 2010 Citizens United ruling applies to state and local elections. The court broke in American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock along the same lines as in the original Citizens United case, when the court ruled that corporate money is speech and thus corporations can spend unlimited amounts on elections. “The question presented in this case is whether the holding of Citizens United applies to the Montana state law,” the majority wrote. “There can be no serious doubt that it does.” No arguments were heard; it was a summary reversal. “To the extent that there was any doubt from the original Citizens United decision broadly applies to state and local laws, that doubt is now gone,” said Marc Elias, a Democratic campaign lawyer. “To whatever extent that door was open a crack, that door is now closed.”
The Supreme Court is expected Thursday to decide on a Montana case that could undercut or reaffirm the court’s controversial 2010 campaign finance decision — and don’t think Senate Democrats aren’t paying attention. Just four and a half months shy of national elections and against the backdrop of super PAC dominance, Democrats still see campaign finance as a winning issue, though admittedly not as important as jobs or the economy. The Supreme Court is considering American Tradition Partnership Inc. v. Bullock, a case in which the Montana high court ruled that the national Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling did not require the state to loosen its own campaign finance restrictions. And while a stay has been issued on that decision, most observers believe the Supreme Court will uphold its position that banning corporate political expenditures is a violation of the First Amendment’s free speech guarantee.
The Supreme Court could give Citizens United a second look this month as it decides whether to take up a lawsuit against the state of Montana, which wants its century-old state law restricting corporate influence in elections to stay in place. Montana is the only state so far to assert its existing corporate-money ban should still stand after the court ruled in 2010 that corporations could spend unlimited amounts on election ads via independent groups. The Montana Supreme Court upheld the 1912 Corrupt Practices Act, but the Supreme Court ordered that the law not be enforced while it reviewed a challenge by the conservative group American Tradition Partnership. The court is widely expected to strike the law down in keeping with its previous decision. Still, advocates view the case as their best chance yet to force the justices to re-examine elements of their landmark 2010 opinion that they say have already proven flawed in light of the subsequent deluge of campaign spending. Twenty-two states and Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) have signed on with Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock (D) in support of their claim.
The Affordable Care Act isn’t the only consequential law whose fate the U.S. Supreme Court holds in its hands. Before the end of the month, the Court is also expected to decide whether to hear a Montana campaign-finance case that may alter the landmark Citizens United ruling. The Montana case, American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock, arose from a challenge to the state’s campaign-finance law. In 1912, when Montana’s “copper kings” routinely drew on their immense wealth to buy off local politicians, the state’s citizens approved a ballot initiative called the Corrupt Practices Act, which banned corporate money in state campaigns and imposed strict limits on individual donations. Today, state legislators can take no more than $160 from individual donors; candidates for governor can take about $1,000. The winner of a Montana Senate race spends an average of $17,000—compare that to the more than $125 million that’s been spent in Wisconsin on a series of recall elections since last winter. Montana’s insistence on transparency and the barriers it built to contain corporate spending have “nurtured a rare, pure form of democracy,” wrote Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer.
Editorials: Montana AG Refuses to Raise Potential Winning Argument in Citizens United Case | 11th Amendment
Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock is failing to “do all he can” — as he has publicly claimed — to win Montana’s U.S. Supreme Court battle against Citizens United. He has refused to put forth a possible winning argument in the case and he won’t explain why. According to a report published on Saturday by Russell Mokhiber in the well-established Washington, D.C. newsletter, Corporate Crime Reporter, AG Bullock’s office told a lawyer who filed an amicus brief in support of Montana that the attorney general is refusing to assert Montana’s sovereign immunity from suit, paradoxically, out of fear that the immunity argument could actually win the case. The case is American Tradition Partnership (ATP) v. Bullock which challenges the validity of the controversial Citizens United case as it applies to state elections and is now awaiting the Court’s decision whether to reconsider its 2010 ruling that struck down federal prohibitions of corporate electioneering.
National: Mystery of Citizens United Sequel Is Format, Not Ending – How Justices Rule May Be an Issue Itself | NYTimes.com
At their private conference, the justices of the Supreme Court are scheduled to decide Thursday whether and how to take a second look at the Citizens United campaign finance decision. The usual odds that the Supreme Court will agree to hear a case are about one in a hundred. This one is pretty much a sure thing. The justices have already temporarily blocked a lower court decision in the case. In that decision, the Montana Supreme Court seemed to defy the higher court by saying that a state law regulating corporate political spending was constitutional notwithstanding Citizens United. Two dissenting State Supreme Court justices said they would have liked to vote with their colleagues but did not believe they were entitled to ignore the United States Supreme Court. “I find myself in the distasteful position of having to defend the applicability of a controlling precedent with which I profoundly disagree,” wrote one of them, Justice James C. Nelson.
Editorials: Montana case gives campaign reformers best shot at undermining Citizens United | NationalJournal.com
The way conservatives tell it, President Obama’s White House tenure has resulted in a near-death experience for federalism. A tidal wave of Obama-inspired federal regulation has turned autonomous states into captives of the national bureaucracy, a perversion, they say, of the Constitution and the Founders’ vision of the “laboratories of democracy.” States’ rights, then, are of paramount concern for conservatives—except, it turns out, when the discussion turns to campaign finance and another principle near and dear to their hearts: free speech. As a case before the Supreme Court this month demonstrates, some on the Right might profess to love the 10th Amendment, but they’re willing to push it aside to embrace the First—at least in this context. The case, American Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Bullock, centers on a century-old Montana law that prohibits corporations from spending money on political campaigns. The U.S. Supreme Court appeared to have rendered the state law unconstitutional in 2010 in its ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that allowed unlimited corporate and union spending on elections; but the Montana Supreme Court unexpectedly upheld the ban last year.
The Supreme Court is expected to respond in June to a Montana Supreme Court decision upholding the state’s Corrupt Practices Act, which bans corporations from making political expenditures from their general treasuries. American Tradition Partnership, a nonprofit group, and co-petitioners sued for a declaration that the act violates their freedom of speech. They contend the Citizens United decision so clearly invalidates the Montana law that the justices should reverse the state ruling without oral argument. Montana, however, makes a sound and compelling argument that Citizens United, which struck down a federal ban on independent spending in political campaigns by corporations and unions, does not bar it from fighting political corruption with a carefully tailored campaign law. The Supreme Court should quickly uphold the state ruling, or hear oral argument before making a decision.
Attorney General Steve Bullock has urged the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold Montana’s century-old ban on corporate spending in political races and reject an attempt to dismantle it. In a brief filed Friday for the state, Bullock and two associates asked the court to deny the attempt by American Tradition Partnership and others to review and overturn the Montana Supreme Court’s decision in December that upheld the state Corrupt Practices Act. “No precedent of this court supports summary invalidation of a long-established state law so critical to its republican form of government,” wrote Bullock and attorneys Anthony Johnstone and James Molloy for the state.
Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia are backing Montana in its fight to prevent the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision from being used to strike down state laws restricting corporate campaign spending. The states led by New York are asking the high court to preserve Montana’s state-level regulations on corporate political expenditures, according to a copy of a brief written by New York’s attorney general’s office and obtained by The Associated Press. The brief will be publicly released Monday. The Supreme Court is being asked to reverse a state court’s decision to uphold the Montana law. Virginia-based American Tradition Partnership is asking the nation’s high court to rule without a hearing because the group says the state law conflicts directly with the Citizens United decision that removed the federal ban on corporate campaign spending. The Supreme Court has blocked the Montana law until it can look at the case.
American politics is in trouble. A tsunami of unaccountable, untraceable political money is overwhelming the Republican race for the presidential nomination and threatens to do the same to the fall election. For many people, especially progressives, the culprit is easy to name: the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which swept away any limits on election-advocacy ads by corporations, unions, and “independent” political-action committees (PACs) and issue groups. Many progressives believe that Citizens United “made corporations people” and that a constitutional amendment restricting “corporate personhood” will cure this political ill. Citizens United is a bad decision. This obvious fact may even be dawning on the Court’s conservative majority, which is taking a surprisingly leisurely look at American Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Bullock, in which the Montana Supreme Court directly challenged Citizens United, in essence telling the justices that they didn’t understand the first thing about politics. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, dissenters in Citizens United, have publicly stated that American Tradition may offer an opening to limit or even overturn the malign precedent.
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider taking another bite of the corporate political free speech apple recently, accepting a petition asking justices to summarily overturn a Montana Supreme Court decision petitioners say flies in the face of Citizens United. Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission is the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision two years ago that basically negated campaign finance laws. In its ruling, the court said Congress shouldn’t be allowed to limit the amount corporations, unions and similar entities give to campaigns. In upholding a ban on corporate independent expenditures in state elections, the Montana Supreme Court determined that “unlike Citizens United, this case concerns Montana law, Montana elections and it arises from Montana history.” That ruling, the petition said, raises the question for the U.S. Supreme Court to consider: “Whether Montana is bound by the holding of Citizens United, that a ban on corporate independent political expenditures is a violation of the First Amendment, when the ban applies to state, rather than federal, elections.”
Arguing that the heavy flow of money into this year’s presidential election campaign is not the result of a controversial Supreme Court ruling, two small Montana corporations told the Supreme Court Tuesday that there is no need now for the Justices to reconsider that decision two years ago in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In fact, the new petition (found here, with an appendix) asked the Justices to summarily overturn a Montana Supreme Court decision that the corporations argued directly disobeyed the Supreme Court. The case is American Tradition Partnership, et al., v. Bullock, et al. (no docket number assigned yet). Two Justices had argued last month that the Montana case would give the Court a chance to reconsider Citizens United, because of the “huge sums” of money now being spent “to buy candidates’ allegiance.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justice Stephen G. Breyer, nonetheless conceded in their statement that lower courts were still bound by the 2010 ruling freeing corporations and labor unions to spend as much as they wished on campaigns if they did so independently of candidates. The Court put on hold the state court ruling upholding a Montana law similar to the federal law nullified in Citizens United, at least until an appeal is decided.
Montana: Citizens United Part II: Montana Supreme Court Collides With U.S. Supreme Court | Huffington Post
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.
When the Montana Supreme Court upheld the state’s 1912 Corrupt Practices Act in December, the majority opinion described the lead plaintiff challenging the law, Western Tradition Partnership, as “a conduit of funds for persons and entities including corporations who want to spend money anonymously to influence Montana elections.” In upholding the law, the court ruled that the United States Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which struck down bans on campaign spending by corporations and unions, did not apply because the Montana law was tailored to meet a compelling state interest and any burden on speech was minimal.