They sound about as exciting as buying tube socks, but proposed administrative rules will help put Montanans back in control of state elections after being overruled by the U.S. Supreme Court, state officials believe. The rules, written by Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl and currently open for public comment, are meant to strengthen campaign disclosure requirements after the high court threw out Montana’s Corrupt Practices Act, a 1912 law that banned corporate political spending. The justices said such spending is a constitutionally protected form of speech. After the ruling, “social welfare” corporations — known by their IRS tax-exempt status 501©4, which don’t disclose their donors — began to hammer Montana candidates using “issue ads.”
Gov. Steve Bullock signed into law Wednesday a major bill to tighten Montana’s campaign finance laws to require anonymous so-called “dark money” groups to report how they are spending money in state political races. The Democratic governor signed the bill flanked by two Republicans, Sen. Duane Ankney of Colstrip, who sponsored the bill, and Rep. Frank Garner of Kalispell, who led the debate in the House. Later, a number of legislators who supported the bill and others who worked on it stood behind the governor and two lawmakers for another bill signing. “When it comes to Montanans as individuals having control of our elections, this is the most significant day in the last 112 years since Montanans passed the Corrupt Practices Act,” Bullock told a large crowd in the Governor’s Reception Room.
A fresh breeze of reform is blowing in from the western plains. On Election Day, Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock was one of just three nonincumbent Democrats to win election as either governor or U.S. senator in states that went red in the presidential race. Bullock was inaugurated two weeks before this month’s third anniversary of Citizens United. He had led a fight to try to keep the U.S. Supreme Court decision in that case from negating Montana’s strict campaign finance law in state elections. Also on Election Day, 75 percent of Montana voters, Democrats and Republicans, approved Initiative 166 calling for a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizens United and the concept of corporate personhood. Montana was joined that day by Colorado as the first two states to pass public referendums, although nine others, including California, have called for an amendment through resolutions by their legislatures.
Five months after the Supreme Court threw out Montana’s 1912 campaign finance law, the state voted overwhelmingly to throw out the justices’ reasoning. Montana’s Initiative 166, which passed with 75% of the vote, disputes the high court’s constitutional analysis and directs the state’s congressional delegation to propose a constitutional amendment overturning the court’s 2010 Citizens United campaign finance ruling. What’s more, the state elected as governor Democrat Steve Bullock, who championed the state’s campaign-finance restrictions in his previous job as state attorney general.
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.
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.
Montana’s attorney general is due to file a brief Friday in the U.S. Supreme Court, asking it to uphold the state’s Corrupt Practices Act. This 1906 law prohibits corporations from making expenditures on behalf of candidates in Montana elections. The Supreme Court’s response could have repercussions far beyond Montana — the case may well determine how much states can regulate money in politics after Citizens United. The state high court cited Montana’s long history of corruption, when corporations often spent unlimited sums to steal elections, as the reason to narrow Citizens United and uphold the law. The Supreme Court should heed the Montana attorney general’s argument. More important, this case could offer the high court a viable means to revisit its Citizens United decision. This 2010 ruling, extended by lower federal courts, has spawned the super PACs now threatening to bring Wild West corruption to federal elections.
The Supreme Court has an opportunity to reconsider its disastrous Citizens United decision. The justices should take it. The damaging effects of unlimited spending by corporations and unions on elections — honestly examined — should cause the court to overturn or, at the very least, limit that ruling. On Friday, the justices granted a stay of a Montana state court ruling that upheld a state anticorruption campaign finance law. The stay gives the parties in the Montana case time to file papers to seek Supreme Court review. In supporting the stay, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote, “Montana’s experience, and experience elsewhere since this court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations ‘do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.’ ” She was quoting Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in Citizens United, in which he claimed that expenditures might result in “influence over or access to elected officials” but would not “corrupt” them.
On Friday, a federal district judge granted a preliminary injunction against a Montana law, the Corrupt Practices Act of 1912, that bans corporations from making independent expenditures in political campaigns. Earlier this month, the United States Supreme Court, in a separate case from the state courts, issued a temporary order preventing Montana from enforcing that law. These cases and others in the country show how the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has upended important state campaign spending laws. As the Montana Supreme Court has said on this question, “Clearly the impact of unlimited corporate donations creates a dominating impact on the political process and inevitably minimizes the impact of individual citizens.”
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.