The Wall Street Journal-Law Blog

By Sam Favate

January 3, 2012

When you think of 2012, you probably think “election,” “controversy,” and “Supreme Court.” Well, it’s barely the new year and we’ve got all three right here.

On Friday, the Montana Supreme Court restored a 100-year-old state ban on direct spending by corporations on political candidates or committees, saying that the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC dealt with federal laws and elections, but the “vast majority” of elections are held at state and local levels, AP reports.

For more background on the case, our own Jess Bravin has stories here and here.

Montana’s 1912 Corrupt Practices Act blocks certain political speech by corporations;  plaintiffs in the case sought to have the century-old law declared unconstitutional. Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock, who represented the state in defending the ban, said the case was the first to examine state laws and elections.

Montana has “a compelling interest” to uphold its campaign-finance laws that include both restrictions and disclosure requirements, the court held, according to the Great Falls Tribune. The state Supreme Court overturned a lower state court ruling, saying it couldn’t find that current laws unfairly impeded corporate owners from engaging in political activity.

The court also said political corporations like American Tradition Partnership, which brought the suit challenging the 1912 law, “act as conduits for anonymous spending by others and represent a threat to the ‘political marketplace.’” Corporations can remain politically active by forming voluntary political action committees, which are subject to disclosure requirements, the court said.

“With this ruling, the Montana Supreme Court now sets up the first test case for the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit its Citizens United decision, a decision which poses a direct and serious threat to our democracy,” John Bonifaz of Free Speech For People, a group that seeks to return corporations to being economic, rather than political, entities, said in a statement.

Read the entire article, here.