MT Supreme Court Ruling Challenges Citizens United
With the presidential primary season now in full swing, campaign finance issues are at the forefront of the political debate. Super PAC spending in the Republican primary has been on the rise, with endorsements and attack ads flooding the airwaves in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina (which holds the next primary election). On the Democratic side, President Obama’s re-election campaign announced today that its 2011 fundraising efforts totaled a staggering $220 million. Money – in particular, money coming directly from corporations’ private coiffures – continues to play a central role in this election. But to ring in the New Year, the Montana Supreme Court issued a decision carrying major implications for the future of corporate political spending in the state, as well as the country.
On December 30, the Montana Supreme Court rejected arguments that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United vs. the Federal Elections Commission applied to the state, which has had legislation banning corporate election spending for a century. This decision upholds that legislation, the Montana Corrupt Practices Act, which is a citizens’ initiative passed in 1912 to protect the state’s elections from unfair corporate influence. The law was passed to counteract the unfair influence wielded by the Butte “Copper Kings” that dominated the state’s economy. In last month’s decision, the Montana Supreme Court found that the influence of money in politics is just as corrupting today as it was then, so the statute should remain in place.
This Montana decision poses a direct challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court 2010 Citizens United ruling, which declared unlimited, anonymous corporate spending in federal elections constitutional. The result is that corporations and labor unions, while still prohibited from contributing directly to a campaign, are now legally able to use as much of their general funds as they wish to advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate.
But with the Montana Supreme Court decision essentially stating that the state had a “compelling interest” to ignore the Citizens United ruling in order to maintain the integrity of its own elections, campaign finance advocates now have new fodder with which to fight to overturn the provisions imposed by Citizens United.
Image courtesy of The Wall Street Journal.