UPDATE: On Monday, the Supreme Court has ruled 5-4 to summarily reverse the case of American Traditions Partnership, Inc. v. Bullock, a ruling which in essence extends the 2009 Citizens united ruling to the states.
The state of Montana has taken a bold step in overturning the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, and other states should follow this rebellious move if they want to protect the integrity of the election process.
In a valiant effort, the Montana Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that Citizens United does not apply in the state. In a 5-to-2 vote, the court overturned the Supreme Court’s decision blatantly confirming its continued commitment to fight political corruption.
In making their decision, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively ruled in favor of corporations, stating that they have a right under the free-speech clause of the First Amendment to spend money in candidate elections. The majority ruling in Citizens United stated that donations do not “give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption” and claimed that such contributions are not the same as bribery.
Montana begs to differ, and other states should follow this sentiment.
After the Court’s ruling, President Barack Obama stated that it was “a major victory of big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown the voices of everyday Americans.”
For similar reasons, the Montana Supreme Court opposed the ruling and continued its 100-year old commitment to its The Corrupt Practices Act of 1912, a century-old state law that bans corporate spending in state and local campaigns. This sentiment has its roots in the state’s historical War of the Copper Kings. Around the turn of the century, three mining tycoons (deemed Copper Kings by local myth) spent millions of dollars to control the state’s natural resources, its government, and media. In a particularly corrupt and lengthy battle, one Copper King even chose where the capital would be located.
With its small population and abundant natural resources Montana has also had a history of being exploited by foreign corporations. The Corrupt Practices Act was passed in a citizen-based initiative to stop such unabashed corruption.
The Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United ignores this historical corruption in Montana, and similar cases around the country. A corporation’s main obligation is to increase profit, not to further the wellness of a community. The average person is unable to compete with the massive contributions pouring in from organizations. The practice unfairly influences which politicians’ voices are heard. Even though small individual campaign donations have become easier and more influential with the advent of the Internet, they still cannot compare to the millions of dollars donated by corporations.
Between 2010 and 2012 there has been a 400% increase (from 1% in 2010 to 4% in 2012) in illegal campaign contributions by employees of major companies.
As Montana Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike McGrath stated, “Clearly the impact of unlimited corporate donations creates a dominating impact on the political process and inevitably minimizes the impact of individual citizens.”
Obviously Montana is not the only state with a history of rampant political corruption, so other states must follow suite. In a clear act of political defiance Montana’s Supreme Court has taken a bold move in the right direction. If the U.S. Supreme Court really considered its citizens’ best interest, it would not have ruled the way it did. States must follow Montana’s actions to force the Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling.
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