In a move that many applauded as a victory for American democracy, the Montana Supreme Court restored a ban on corporate money in state politics on Friday.
In 2010, the Supreme Court approved the controversial Citizens United decision, which essentially granted corporations the same rights to privacy and free speech as actual humans. In light of Citizens United, Western Tradition Partnership, a clandestine Colorado corporation, a Montana sportsman’s group, and local businessman sued the state to overturn a hundred year-old law banning direct corporate spending on electoral campaigns. A lower court agreed with them, saying the Supreme Court’s ruling trumped the state law.
But Attorney General Steve Bullock wouldn’t back down that easily.
“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, told the Great Falls Tribune. “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.”
Upon reversing the lower court’s decision, The Montana Supreme Court said the state has a “compelling interest” to uphold its rationally tailored campaign-finance laws that include a combination of restrictions and disclosure requirements.
“Organizations like WTP that act as a conduit for anonymously spending by others represent a threat to the political marketplace,” wrote Mike McGrath, Chief Justice of the Montana Supreme Court, for the majority. “Clearly the impact of unlimited corporate donations creates a dominating impact on the political process and inevitably minimizes the impact of individual citizens.”
Unfortunately, the two members of the Montana Supreme Court who dissented say the victory might be short-lived. Ultimately, the Supreme Court decides the law of the land, and however misguided it may be, state courts are obligated to uphold it.
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