Montana State Court Rejects Citizens United, Upholds 100-Year-Old Ban on Corporate Money in Elections

A huge victory in Montana last week restored the state’s longstanding ban on corporate political spending on behalf of state political candidates and parties, overturning a lower court’s ruling and flying in the face of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that grants corporations the same free speech rights as individuals. By upholding the constitutionality of the Corrupt Practices Act – a voter initiative that bans corporate contributions to state candidates and political parties that dates back to 1912 – the Montana Supreme Court became the first state court in the country to reject Citizens United.

In the majority decision, Chief Justice Mike McGrath wrote, “With the infusion of unlimited corporate money in support of or opposition to a targeted candidate, the average citizen candidate would be unable to compete against the corporate-sponsored candidate, and Montana citizens, who for over 100 years have made their modest election contributions meaningfully count would be effectively shut out of the process.”

The Corrupt Practices Act was originally enacted as a response to widespread government corruption, caused by mining barons who spent and bribed their way to favor with politicians. As the court noted, before the Corrupt Practices Act, “the real social and political power was wielded by powerful corporate managers to further their own business interests.”

In addition to effectively overturning state bans on corporate and/or union political activity in 24 states, 2010’s Citizens United decision made clear the fact that the majority of state campaign finance laws are ill-equipped to properly address the new reality. However, state legislatures have been slow to respond – only about a dozen states have enacted improved disclosure laws.

Support for improved campaign finance laws is building though, particularly in light of the devastatingly undemocratic effect Citizens United had on the 2010 midterm elections. One of last year's brightest moments came when Maryland, in addition to bolstering its woefully inadequate disclosure laws, became the first state in the country to require any company that spends in state races to report the expenditures to their shareholders. For more information on this and other 2011 advances in election and campaign finance reform, check out Progressive States Network’s 2011 Election Reform Roundup.

Full Resources from this Article

Montana State Court Rejects Citizens United, Upholds 100-Year-Old Ban on Corporate Money in Elections

Montana State Supreme Court: Citizens United Not Welcome Here - Truthout
Double Barrel Blast From Big Sky Country: Montana Rejects Citizens - Ciara Torres-Spelliscy
Life After Citizens United - NCSL Supreme Court upholds state ban on corporation spending - Billings Gazette


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