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The Montana Supreme Court is apparently much wiser than the U.S. Supreme Court. The Montana judges have ruled in favor of a 100-year-old ban on direct corporate spending on political candidates in their state.

Corporations Are Not People banner in Civic Center, Los Angeles, CA, 11/25/11. (photo: Doran/Flickr)
Corporations Are Not People banner in Civic Center, Los Angeles, CA, 11/25/11. (photo: Doran/Flickr)

Citizens United Loses in Montana

By Matt Gouras, Great Falls Tribune

02 January 12


he 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 Citizens 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's 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 Citizens 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 Citizens 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." your social media marketing partner


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+64 # paxuniversalis 2012-01-02 10:29

What a breath of fresh air. A Juridical entity displaying independent thought.

May 2012 continue with an avalanche of events which move us back towards a progressive tradition of defense of rights for personhood, and caring for the true citizen (e.g. non corporate entity).
+24 # John Locke 2012-01-02 13:58
paxuniversalis: Granted the Montana Supreme Court got it right, this case will ultimately end up back in the US Supreme Court where I fear its reversal, I have no faith in the US Supreme Court after the neoconservative boot licking John G. Roberts, Jr and Samuel Alito, Jr were confirmed
+65 # futhark 2012-01-02 10:29
The Montana State Supreme Court obviously understands what the Federal Supreme Court does not: that the essence of the American Revolution, implicit in the Declaration of Independence and explicit in the Preamble to the Constitution, is that the People, not oligarchical combinations like corporations or PACs, are sovereign. The Citizens United decision is nothing less than a betrayal of the Revolution and an undermining of its fundamentals. We need justices who understand the political theory of our Revolution and what it is supposed to represent.
+59 # sol4u2 2012-01-02 11:05
BRAVO to Montana, every state should take the same stand. It is time the Supreme Court listened to the people of this country and the states it represents. Corporations are NOT American citizens, corporations are NOT people or individual persons who can go and cast a ballot in an election. It is a group / entity incorporated under corporate charter that can act as an individual; however, the whole concept is way off the mark that it (corporation)sh ould be entitled to the same rights as an individual, single person(s), citizens of the USA - And we should remember that MANY corporations have boards made up of NON-US persons who have no US citizenship and reside in other countries but because the corporation is registered in the US (many oil companies etc)they feel they are entitled to all the benefits of US citizenship. I say NO WAY and certainly they should not influence our elections!
+34 # Scott479 2012-01-02 11:44
The first step towards stomping on corporatocracy.
+13 # Douglas Jack 2012-01-02 12:14
Judges, lawyers, corporate lackeys, the citizen's who elect them and buy their corporate products, pretend that money isn't an issue in elections. They argue such nonsense and take home their pay-checks declared and undeclared. Their whole faith is in money having none in a system of popular decision-making and representation. What callousness towards human-kind! While colonial political democracy is indeed a fake and sick system controlled by life-destroying corporations, we can all contribute to restoring the original Economic Democracy and sovereignty of First Nations and finally become an 'indigenous' (Latin = 'self-generatin g') peoples here
+25 # daveapostles 2012-01-02 12:17
I salute the Montana Supreme Court - proper jurisprudence and a test of reasonableness prevail. Thank you, judges.
+20 # shortonfaith 2012-01-02 12:19
Big Sky country obviously contains a lot of big thinkers also. Hopefully other states follow suit quickly. Maybe congressional members can move their heads out from bottoms & hurry their voting on this matter. All we have is hope.

Send your political contributions to OWS
+20 # Tippitc 2012-01-02 13:15
WOOHOO Montana!! Stand tough and stand tall - you must be mighty proud of your state government!! A government of the PEOPLE, for the PEOPLE and by the PEOPLE - not a pile of paper generated by a greedy corporation. What a GREAT way to start 2012!!!
+3 # papabob 2012-01-02 15:23
PRECEDENT, n. In law, a previous decision, rule or practice which, in the absence of a definite statute, has whatever force and authority a judge may choose to give it, thereby greatly simplifying his task of doing as he pleases.
(Ambrose Bierce)
+12 # Texan 4 Peace 2012-01-02 15:30
"We feel Montanans do not forfeit their freedoms of speech and association simply because they associate as a corporation." What an ass -- any Montanan can exercise those freedoms AS AN INDIVIDUAL, just like the rest of us 99%-ers. What the ruling says is that you don't get EXTRA rights just because you've formed a corporation.
-1 # RLF 2012-01-04 07:30
And you don't get to use investor money without asking!
+4 # panhead49 2012-01-02 16:33
Wish their winters were more mild - I'd be packing right now.

futhark - are you our Witter Springs futhark?
+6 # MainStreetMentor 2012-01-02 18:18
Seems to me, an individual can express their political choice with a donation to one or more candidates. Since individuals make up and comprise all corporations - they've already made their donations as an individual - to donate again may exceed the limit of the campaign contribution laws. When a State within the Union, executes a corporation, then I will believe a corporation is a person.
+3 # Kootenay Coyote 2012-01-02 21:08
Until the wretched fiction that a Corporation is a legal person is demolished properly, this obscenity will continue.
+1 # 2012-01-02 21:55
This is no surprise. The people of Montana remember well that money is back of the very corrupt politicians which the general militias are prepared to push back against, should it ever be required. The rest of the country has its head buried in Big-Macs and doesn't seem to care anymore.
+1 # Willman 2012-01-02 21:58
Quite ironic that the right wing nuts consider marriage to be between a man an woman, and their views on conception and a woman's right to choose.
Then along comes the Citizens united case.They are behind this as well.Corporatio ns are right up there with marriage and motherhood.
0 # futhark 2012-01-03 05:07
panhead49, you nailed me. So much for anonymity on the Internet!

How many Witter Springses are there?

Are you the Lake County panhead49? Do you ride a Harley?
+3 # boudreaux 2012-01-03 09:13
This is great, I just wish that the whole country would have and pratice this law.
It is very hard to put our trust in any government supreme court,congress, corperations much less anything that will help keep this to be a country blinded by money. It is hard to be a happy person in this country that is so managed by greed...I don't know what else to say about this as I am not as well versded as most of your posts on this site....thank you for listening to how I feel. I feel that it just so hard to trust anyone in this country and this is brought on by our govermantal system.....any of them, they will all fall down sooner or later.....Let us keep going with OWS...!
+1 # reiverpacific 2012-01-03 10:50
-And this is from a relatively conservative state, demonstrating that true thinking people of all stripes value freedom and release from monopolization of their wishes by the wealthy.
Now if that damn "Homeland battlefield" bill could be overturned --------!
+1 # lin96 2012-01-03 13:37
I guess if you're from Montana you won't be voting for Mitt Romney who corrected a woman at a town meeting saying "Yes, corporations are people." Don't count on Montana, Mitt.
0 # tamotellico 2012-01-03 14:56
Quoting lin96:
I guess if you're from Montana you won't be voting for Mitt Romney who corrected a woman at a town meeting saying "Yes, corporations are people." Don't count on Montana, Mitt.

You're assuming the majority of MT voters are as intelligent as the MTSC justices. I wouldn't bet on it, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see that state go in the R column come November.
+1 # tamotellico 2012-01-03 14:24
Bitterly ironic that the "originalists" on the USSC decided CU in a way that so blatantly flies in the face of the intent of the Founders -- whose experience with the East India Company left them rightly suspicious of corporations. But then, hypocrisy on the Right knows no bounds.

Also ironic -- but hardly surprising -- that the same well-connected, wealthy individuals who seek legal protection under the corporate veil want to have it both ways and have corporations deemed persons where it suits their nefarious ends.

Bravo to the MTSC, but the real test of this case will come when the decision is reviewed by the USSC -- and it surely will be. Will the Fumbling Five repeat their grievous error? Their corporate masters can take that to the bank. Why? For starters, John Roberts has never ruled against a corporation.

Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Sam Alito -- and fools say elections don't matter.
+2 # BobHG 2012-01-03 22:38
Until America takes the money out of politics, it will always be a Corporate Occupied Government and now its citizens live in a permanent state of Martial Law. The corporatocracy must be dancing in the streets.
+1 # RLF 2012-01-04 07:28
"We feel Montanans do not forfeit their freedoms of speech and association simply because they associate as a corporation,"

I'm sorry but aren't all of those 'corporate citizens' still citizens and able to exercise their speech AS AN INDIVIDUAL, so they don't need to do it as a Corp? This is all about using investor money without having to get their permission.
+1 # wrodwell 2012-01-04 16:13
One sane state down and groovy, 49 to go. Bravo, Montana!
-1 # Gengis 2012-01-08 13:41
We are a free country in which all citizens are held to be equal. Yet when the South tried to cecede because they could not agree to that equality, they found they could not cecede. I wonder if we have the freedom to cecede and join Canada today without another civil war?
The exercise would be interesting, especially if North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and/or Michigan went with us. Maybe our young people would not be coming home in body bags so often.

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