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.
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.
Last month the Supreme Court issued a stay on Montana’s Supreme Court decision upholding corporate spending limits in state elections. It seems that the Court may be ready to reexamine Citizens United. What they’ll find is what many states have been saying all along: Citizens United is out of sync with the values of many states. Montana was the first of many states to express disdain for unlimited corporate funding. Early last week 55 towns in Vermont passed resolutions proposing a constitutional amendment that would limit the rights of corporations. The Alabama legislature has also been seeking to stop PAC-to-PAC fund transfers that mask donors. Even some members of the Court seem eager to reexamine the effects of Citizens United.
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.”
A Portland lawmaker has joined the growing list of those challenging the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision by submitting a proposal that would ban unlimited corporate and union campaign contributions to candidates. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jon Hinck, D-Portland, is identical to a Montana law that was recently affirmed by that state’s a highest court. The Montana justices argued that the state’s people and small business owners could be silenced by big-pocketed, in-state, or out-of-state interests.
Two years ago this month, the U.S. Supreme Court held that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited funds on campaign advertisements, provided that such spending is not formally “coordinated” with any candidate. Central to this conclusion was the majority’s broad finding — unsupported by any evidence — that so-called “independent expenditures” pose no risk of political corruption. At the time, some lawyers and academics voiced their alarm. Now, the disastrous effects of this assumption are public knowledge, and — from Helena, Mont., to New York City — even unusual suspects are starting to rebel.
On December 30, the Montana Supreme Court delivered a New Year’s gift to the nation, upholding a century-old ban on corporate political expenditures in state elections. The decision has gone underreported amidst the hoopla of the Republican primaries—even as super PAC spending skyrockets and there is an emerging understanding of its corrosive impact—but the Montana case sets up the first direct challenge to the disastrous Citizens United decision as we approach its second anniversary. Free Speech For People—a national non-partisan campaign challenging the fabrication of corporate rights under the US Constitution—filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Montana case. It led a coalition that included the American Sustainable Business Council, a network of more than 70,000 businesses across the country; the American Independent Business Alliance; and a local supermarket business and non-profit corporation.
It may be surprising that the biggest blow to corporations in 2011 didn’t come from Wall Street protestors. Late last month Montana’s Supreme Court took a swing at corporate spending in elections holding, in spite of the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee, that a 100-year-old law banning corporate spending was valid. In doing so, the court held that the lower court’s reading of Citizens United was erroneous. The Court in Citizens United said, “Laws burdening such speech are subject to strict scrutiny, which requires the Government to prove that the restriction ‘furthers a compelling interest and is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest.’”
National: Citizens United Lawyer Retained by Groups in Montana Campaign Finance Case For High Court Appeal | The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times
Bopp is back. James Bopp Jr., the lawyer who brought Citizens United v. FEC to the U.S. Supreme Court has been retained by the organizations that lost their suit to overturn Montana’s ban on corporate independent expenditures to take their appeal to the nation’s high court.
Editorials: Montana Spurns U.S. Supreme Court Ruling, Upholds Ban on Corporate Electioneering | AMIBA
On December 30, the Montana Supreme Court issued a stunning ruling, rejecting arguments that the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Citizens United vs. FEC applied to Montana’s century-old ban on direct corporate election spending. The 5-2 ruling overturned a lower court and reinstated Montana’s Corrupt Practices Act, a citizen initiative passed to confront some of the most overt corporate corruption in American history. While the Montana ruling detailed several ways in which the Corrupt Practices Act differed from the federal statute struck down in Citizens United, the justices clearly rejected much of the U.S. Supreme Court’s rationale. Citizens United struck down a federal law that prohibited corporations from directly spending company funds to advocate for or against political candidates.
Voting Blogs: Battle of the Supremes – The Montana high court upholds the state’s anti-corruption laws—and challenges Citizens United in the process | Elizabeth Kennedy/American Prospect
The Montana Supreme Court in Helena stands just off the main drag, dramatically called Last Chance Gulch Street. The picturesque setting is fitting for an institution that has just challenged the U.S. Supreme Court to a legal showdown on the enormously important question of whether corporations should have an unfettered right to dominate elections or whether citizens have the right to adopt commonsense protections to defend democratic government from corruption. Get the kids off the streets, because this could be an epic confrontation.
In upholding the section of Montana’s Corrupt Practices Act that restricts direct corporate political spending, the Montana Supreme Court attacked the Citizens United fiction that independent expenditures aren’t corrupting and that corporate political spending isn’t a danger to democratic government. The Montana jurists’ decision in Western Tradition Partnership states unequivocally, “The impact of unlimited corporate donations creates a dominating impact on the political process and inevitably minimizes the impact of individual citizens.” The decision will no doubt be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. But two years after the Citizens United decision, there has been ample evidence of the harm it’s inflicted on our electoral system.
Recently, the Montana Supreme Court upheld the state’s ban on corporate independent expenditures. This is a direct rebuke of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which struck down a federal ban on corporate independent expenditures, largely based on the assumption that such spending inherently cannot corrupt elected officials.
The majority opinion in Citizens United, authored by Justice Kennedy, concluded that “independent expenditures do not lead to, or create the appearance of, quid pro quo corruption” and that “there is only scant evidence that independent expenditures even ingratiate.” But, thanks to a procedural quirk, the case shot up to the Supreme Court before anyone in the case could engage in any real fact-finding. So, Kennedy’s conclusion was little more than an untested hypothesis, not supported by any hard evidence.
When presented with evidence of corruption in a similar case, Justice Kennedy came to a totally different conclusion. Caperton v. Massey dealt with a West Virginia Supreme Court justice who failed to recuse himself from a case involving a CEO who spent nearly $3 million on independent expenditures in support of the justice’s election. Because the independent expenditures constituted the vast majority of spending in the judicial election, Justice Kennedy concluded that the justice should have recused himself because “no man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause, [and] similar fears of bias can arise when…a man chooses the judge in his own cause.”
Voting Blogs: Western Populism and Corporate Electioneering: The Montana Supreme Court | Election Law Blog
One of the historical oddities about today’s debates over corporate money and elections is that the issue maps so directly onto partisan political differences, at least among national political players. As I’ve noted before, the deeper, long-term pattern historically has been quite different. Starting at least in the Jacksonian era, with Andrew Jackson’s war on the Bank of the United States — in significant part, because of allegations that the Bank was playing a role in partisan political contests — there have been longstanding alliances against corporate money in politics that united more conservative populists in the west and midwest with more liberal progressives in the east and that transcended conventional partisan divisions.
Arizona’s John McCain, of course, was a principal architect of the restrictions on corporate electioneering the Supreme Court struck down in Citizens United. And within the US Supreme Court, manifestations of that deep historical pattern can be seen in the fact that several Justices from the western United States who otherwise were considered conservatives or moderates strongly endorsed the power of government to limit the role of corporate money in elections — Justice O’Connor (from Arizona), Justice White (from Colorado), and Justice Rehnquist (sixteen years in private practice in Arizona). But there is no one on the Court now who appears to reflect that western-style populist resistance to corporate electioneering.
Montana: Double Barrel Blast From Big Sky Country: Montana Rejects Citizens United | Ciara Torres-Spelliscy/Huffington Post
On December 30, 2011, by a vote of 5 to 2 the Montana Supreme Court decided that Montana’s ban on corporate political expenditures dating back to 1912 could stand. In a hard hitting decision, the U.S. Supreme Court’s take on the role of corporate money in politics in 2010’s Citizens United was challenged by both the majority and a dissent. The Montana Court slammed Citizens United from both barrels.
Barrel number one is the majority opinion, which relies on the particular history of Montana to uphold the constitutionality of the Corrupt Practices Act, a voter initiative, which was adopted on the heels of rampant corporate corruption at the behest of out of state mining interests. As the majority wrote: “the Montana law at issue in this case cannot be understood outside the context of the time and place it was enacted, during the early twentieth century.”
Montana’s “Copper Kings” as they were known bought judges, influenced the legislature and nearly monopolized the state’s mass media of the day — its newspapers. The corruption had federal aspects as well as. One U.S. senator from Montana, W. A. Clark, was expelled because the Senate concluded he had won his seat through bribery. The people of Montana chose to protect their democracy from this type of mischief by outlawing corporate spending in Montana’s elections.