The U.S. Supreme Court reversed a decision by the Montana Supreme Court that prohibited corporate campaign donations, striking down a century-old ban and now allowing businesses to give money in elections.
"The question presented in this case is whether the holding of Citizen United applies to the Montana state law," the justices wrote in their decision on American Tradition Partnership vs. Attorney General Steve Bullock and the state of Montana. "There can be no serious doubt that it does ... Montana's arguments in support of the judgment below either were already rejected in Citizens United, or fail to meaningfully distinguish that case."
The debate has been couched as a First Amendment — Freedom of Speech – issue in which opponents of the ban on corporate spending said Montana's laws prohibited corporations from contributing to campaigns — a form of free speech. Supporters of the ban said corporations are not people and that Montana has a history of corporate influence in campaigns and that's why laws were passed 100 years ago banning corporate funds in elections.
The justices, who voted 5-4 to strike down the ban, also noted in their 2010 ruling on Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, found that "political speech does not lose First Amendment protection simply because its source is a corporation."
American Tradition Partnership, which claimed the1912 law was unconstitutional under the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, released a statement calling for Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Bullock to resign, saying it won "for the simple reason the law and the Constitution are always on our side."
"We are pleased the Justices of the United States Supreme Court have upheld the Constitution's guarantee of free speech without limits or retribution by government officials," ATP officials wrote in a statement posted on their website. "As clearly stated by the First Amendment, politicians cannot outlaw political speech to create a favorable political environment or because they simply don't like the type of speaker."
ATP said Schweitzer and Bullock tried to limit political speech that may shed sunlight on their "corrupt practices."
"Given Governor Schweitzer and Attorney General Bullock's latest court loss in a case in which they failed to honor their oath, American Tradition Partnership's grassroots members across Montana ask both men to tender their resignations immediately."
Schweitzer criticized the court's, per curiam decision, which was not signed and presented as an opinion of the entire court.
"I guess the United States Supreme Court disagrees with the Montana Supreme Court and a good part of Montana," Schweitzer told Montana Watchdog. "It means now that dirty, secret and foreign money can decide Montana elections.
"This is a system they are using in Washington, D.C. And this is a system that now allows the stink from Washington, D.C." to come to Montana," he said.
Bullock said the Supreme Court's decision would not be the "last word" on the issue.
Opponents of the decision say this November, Montana voters will have the chance to clarify that "corporations are not people, that money is not speech, and once again act to get big money out of our elections by voting for I-166."
The Big Sky Business Journal
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