Supreme Court Strikes Down Montana Anti-Corruption Law as Corporate Cash Continues to Flood Elections

In its 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a law that had banned corporations from running ads supporting or opposing candidates for the House, Senate, and the presidency. The decision opened the floodgates for wealthy donors and corporations to establish super PACs, which can raise and spend unlimited funds from any source. Today, the Supreme Court had an opportunity to learn from this mistake and correct its error.

Instead, in a 5-4 ruling in American Tradition Partnership, Inc., v. Bullock, the Court said that the state of Montana cannot limit corporations' ability to spend money to support or oppose candidates for elected office. The Court's majority argued that the Citizens United ruling supersedes state law.

Montana’s history reveals the perils of allowing unregulated spending in campaigns. In 1899, powerful copper baron William Clark was appointed to the U.S. Senate by Montana’s state legislature, but the Senate refused to seat him after extensive evidence of bribery of state legislators came to light. This scandal resulted in stricter state campaign finance laws.

In his dissenting opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote, “Even if I were to accept Citizens United, this Court’s legal conclusion should not bar the Montana Supreme Court’s finding, made on the record before it, that independent expenditures by corporations did in fact lead to corruption or the appearance of corruption in Montana.”

The Court's ruling comes in the wake of other attempts to limit the public’s ability to counter the influence of moneyed interests in our elections. In a June 12 speech to the American Enterprise Institute, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) defended the right of corporations to contribute unlimited money to campaigns, arguing that attempts to limit such contributions amounted to an attack on free speech. McConnell then asserted that disclosing political contributions would “intimidate” donors and called for the end of requirements that donors disclose their contributions. This is a reversal of his own earlier position, when he argued that disclosure would ensure that special interests would not exert undue influence. So far in this election, “intimidation” of wealthy billionaires does not appear to be a problem.

The Supreme Court once again cynically overturned a law that citizens demanded to ensure elected officials represent all their constituents, not just those who can afford to fill their campaign coffers. Today’s ruling on Montana's law is another blow to the democratic promise of government of, by, and for the people.

back to Blog