Montana Supreme Court Restores Corporate Campaign Spending Ban
The Montana Supreme Court restored the state's century-old ban on direct spending by corporations on political candidates or committees in a ruling Friday that interest groups say bucks a high profile U.S. Supreme Court decision granting political speech rights to corporations. The decision grants a big win to Attorney General Steve Bullock, who personally represented the state in defending its ban that came under fire after the "Citizens United" decision last year from the U.S. Supreme court.
MT court restores corporate campaign spending ban
By MATT GOURAS, Associated Press – 3 hours ago
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Supreme Court restored the state's century-old ban on direct spending by corporations on political candidates or committees in a ruling Friday that interest groups say bucks a high profile U.S. Supreme Court decision granting political speech rights to corporations.
The decision grants a big win to Attorney General Steve Bullock, who personally represented the state in defending its ban that came under fire after the "Citizens United" decision last year from the U.S. Supreme court.
"The Citizen's United decision dealt with federal laws and elections — like those contests for president and congress," said Bullock, who is now running for governor. "But the vast majority of elections are held at the state or local level and this is the first case I am aware of that examines state laws and elections."
The corporation that brought the case, and is also fighting accusations that it illegally gathers anonymous donations to fuel political attacks, said the state Supreme Court got it wrong. The group argues that the 1912 Corrupt Practices Act, passed as a citizen's ballot initiative, unconstitutionally blocks political speech by corporations.
"We feel Montanans do not forfeit their freedoms of speech and association simply because they associate as a corporation," said American Tradition Partnership executive director Donald Ferguson in a statement. "We are currently reviewing our legal options."
The lawsuit was prompted by the U.S. Supreme Court Citizens' United decision from last year granting political speech rights to corporations. A lower court then ruled the state ban was unconstitutional in the wake of the high court's decision.
But the Montana Supreme Court on Friday reversed the lower state court's analysis and application of the Citizen United case.
The Montana Supreme Court said Montana has a "compelling interest" to uphold its rationally tailored campaign finance laws that include a combination of restrictions and disclosure requirements.
A group seeking to undo the Citizen United decision lauded the Montana high court, with its co-founder saying it was a "huge victory for democracy."
"With this ruling, the Montana Supreme Court now sets up the first test case for the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit its Citizens United decision, a decision which poses a direct and serious threat to our democracy," John Bonifaz, of Free Speech For People, said in a statement.
The Montana court agreed with Bullock's argument that past political corruption, led by the famed Butte "Copper Kings" that dominated state politics long ago, gives Montana a compelling interest in regulating corporate spending. They pointed out also that corporations can form voluntary political action committees — subject to disclosure requirements — as a way to remain politically active.
The high court said it could not find the current laws unfairly impeded corporate owners from engaging in political activity. And it said "political" corporations like American Tradition Partnership "act as conduits for anonymous spending by others and represent a threat to the 'political marketplace.'"
ATP has gained notoriety tangling with state campaign finance authorities, and riling Democrats and even some Republicans with hard-hitting attack mailers. It has done so without so far filing disclosures on spending or donors, previously arguing it does not need to do so.
It has a separate state lawsuit challenging the right of the state to penalize it, and a federal lawsuit that challenges many other aspects of state campaign finance regulations and disclosure requirements
The Montana Supreme Court argued there are plenty of ways for corporations to engage in politics, without funneling anonymous money into the process.
"The evidence submitted by the state in the district court similarly demonstrates that corporations, through their political committees organized under Montana law, are and have been a substantial presence and active participants in Montana politics," the court wrote. "The many lobbyists and political committees who participate in each session of the Montana Legislature bear witness. Under the undisputed facts here, the political committee is an easily implemented and effective alternative to direct corporate spending for engaging in political speech."
Two members of the Montana Supreme Court dissented. Both justices Beth Baker and James Nelson said that a state can't impose an outright ban against political spending under the Citizens United decision — even if the U.S. Supreme Court may have got its decision on the matter wrong.
"Citizens United is the law of the land, and this court is duty-bound to follow it," Nelson wrote. "When this case is appealed to the Supreme Court, as I expect it will be, a summary reversal on the merits would not surprise me in the least."
Montana Supreme Court Upholds State's Century-Old Ban on Corporate Money in Elections
Submitted by oskebuckley on Fri, 12/30/2011 - 19:44
DATE: December 30, 2011
MONTANA SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS STATE’S CENTURY-OLD BAN ON CORPORATE MONEY IN ELECTIONS
RULING SETS UP FIRST DIRECT CHALLENGE TO US SUPREME COURT’S
JANUARY 2010 DECISION IN CITIZENS UNITED v. FEC
‘A Huge Victory for Democracy’
HELENA, MONTANA -- The Montana Supreme Court today upheld Montana’s century-old ban on corporate political expenditures in state elections. The Court’s 5-2 ruling sets up the first direct challenge to the US Supreme Court’s January 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which equated corporations with people under the First Amendment and swept away longstanding precedent that had barred corporate expenditures in federal elections. Montana’s 1912 Corrupt Practices Act came under legal attack following the Citizens United decision, and Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock has vigorously defended the state’s law in the Montana courts, leading to today’s state supreme court ruling.
“[T]he State of Montana, or more accurately its voters, clearly had a compelling interest to enact the challenged statute in 1912,” wrote Chief Justice Mike McGrath for the Court’s the majority opinion in the case of Western Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. State of Montana. “At that time the State of Montana and its government were operating under a mere shell of legal authority, and the real social and political power was wielded by powerful corporate managers to further their own business interests.”
“The question then, is when in the last 99 years did Montana lose the power or interest sufficient to support the statute, if it ever did,” Chief Justice McGrath continued. “…Issues of corporate influence, sparse population, dependence upon agriculture and extractive resource development, location as a transportation corridor, and low campaign costs make Montana especially vulnerable to continued efforts of corporate control to the detriment of democracy and the republican form of government. Clearly, Montana has unique and compelling interests to protect through preservation of this statute.”
“Citizens United,” Chief Justice McGrath declared for the Court, “does not compel a conclusion that Montana’s law prohibiting independent political expenditures by a corporation related to a candidate is unconstitutional.”
“This is a huge victory for democracy,” said John Bonifaz, the co-founder and director of Free Speech For People (www.freespeechforpeople.org), a national campaign launched on the day of the Citizens United ruling in January 2010 to overturn the Court’s decision. “In a powerful ruling, the Montana Supreme Court has rightly upheld its century-old law barring corporate political expenditures, a law that has proved necessary for protecting the integrity of Montana elections. With this ruling, the Montana Supreme Court now sets up the first test case for the US Supreme Court to revisit its Citizens United decision, a decision which poses a direct and serious threat to our democracy.
“The Montana state supreme court justices have just provided a New Year’s gift to the nation,” Bonifaz continued.
In April 2011, Free Speech For People led a coalition of public interest groups and businesses in the filing of a friend-of-the-court brief before the Montana Supreme Court in defense of Montana’s Corrupt Practices Act. “The 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission,” the coalition’s brief stated, “was an extreme extension of an erroneous corporate rights doctrine that has eroded the First Amendment and the Constitution for the past 30 years.” The ruling, the brief continued, “is contrary not only to our republican principles of government, but also to American principles of free and fair commerce among free people and the States.”
“Corporations are not people,” said Jeff Clements, the co-founder and general counsel for Free Speech For People and the author of the coalition’s brief. “The Framers understood that. The First Amendment and the Constitution is for people. We are proud to stand today with the State of Montana to vindicate the Framers’ intent and to defend our democracy.”
“Montana has the right and the duty to defend its laws against Beltway-based corporate front groups," said Jeff Milchen, co-founder of the Bozeman, MT - based American Independent Business Alliance. “Butte, Libby and other Montana communities are still recovering from the ravages of large corporations whose political power allowed them to profit at the expense of Montanans’ health and our environment. Overturning our essential protections for election integrity would invite even more harm while allowing out-of-state corporations to gain political favors that undermine Montana entrepreneurs."
“All businesses must ask ourselves: Are our goals furthered by pay-to-play elections where precious capital is diverted to politics, or should we focus on our business and the benefits that we bring to the local and national economy? Montana’s ban on corporate spending should be applauded as a national model. A decision to overturn this decision will substantially increase the over-dominance of corporate influence in politics—both in determining who gets elected and how they make decisions once they are in office,” said David Levine, executive director of the American Sustainable Business Council.
In addition to Free Speech For People, other signatories to the brief included the American Sustainable Business Council, representing a network of more than 70,000 businesses across the country; the American Independent Business Alliance, based in Bozeman, Montana; Mike’s Thriftway, a supermarket business in Chester, Montana; and Home Resource Center, Inc., a non-profit Montana corporation operating a building materials and re-use center in Missoula, Montana.
Jonathan Motl of Morrison, Motl & Sherwood in Helena, Montana, served as co-counsel with Jeff Clements on the brief.
Launched on the day of the Citizens United ruling, Free Speech For People is a national non-partisan campaign challenging the fabrication of corporate rights under the US Constitution and pressing for a constitutional amendment to ensure that people, not corporations, govern in America.
To Read The Montana Supreme Court’s Opinion, Click Here.
The coalition’s amicus brief filed in April 2011 can be accessed here: http://freespeechforpeople.org/sites/default/files/FSFPAmicusBrief.pdf
To learn more about Free Speech For People, visit www.freespeechforpeople.org.
To learn more about the American Sustainable Business Council and the Business For Democracy Campaign, visit www.businessfordemocracy.com.
To learn more about the American Independent Business Alliance, visit www.amiba.net.