Something amazing happened in Montana on December 30. The State Supreme Court ruled on whether Montana has to throw out its century-old ban on corporate spending in Montana elections in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling. What did the state court decide? Well, to summarize in two words: heck, no.
That’s right. While outside groups were busy flooding the airwaves in Iowa with political attack ads leading up to this week’s Iowa caucuses (“independent” groups were estimated to spend something like $9 million in Iowa, more than double the $4 million spent by the candidates themselves), the Montana State Supreme Court was busy reasserting Montanans’ right to say “no, thanks” to corporate spending in their elections.
The Montana court’s ruling was 5-2 in favor of upholding the state’s corporate spending ban enacted by the voters 100 years ago in 1912. But even the 5-2 tally doesn’t tell the whole story. In fact, even one of the two dissenting justices gave a scathing critique of Citizens United in his written dissent. Justice James C. Nelson wrote:
“While, as a member of this Court, I am bound to follow Citizens United, I do not have to agree with the Supreme Court’s decision. And, to be absolutely clear, I do not agree with it. For starters, the notion that corporations are disadvantaged in the political realm is unbelievable. Indeed, it has astounded most Americans. The truth is that corporations wield inordinate power in Congress and in state legislatures. It is hard to tell where government ends and corporate America begins; the transition is seamless and overlapping.”
“It is utter nonsense to think that ordinary citizens or candidates can spend enough to place their experience, wisdom, and views before the voters and keep pace with the virtually unlimited spending capability of corporations to place corporate views before the electorate. In spending ability, bigger really is better; and with campaign advertising and attack ads, quantity counts. In the end, candidates and the public will become mere bystanders in elections.”
Taking Justice Nelson’s critique into account, the ruling coming from the Montana justices is really 6-1 against the Supreme Court’s logic in Citizens United.
It’s worth noting that Montana’s ban on corporate spending applies to judicial elections, too. This means judges in Montana aren’t indebted to corporate contributors – and don’t have to worry about being challenged by well-funded corporate-backed opponents.
Bearing that in mind, the Montana decision gives us a look at how a truly impartial panel of judges evaluates the Citizens United ruling. The verdict is, essentially, 6-1 against it. That’s a pretty resounding “heck, no.”
If Montana can say “heck, no” to unlimited corporate spending in its elections, what about the other 49 states?
Want to read more about the Montana decision? Check out some of the blog and press coverage here: