The high court upholds the state’s century-old corporate contribution limits, a rebuff of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed businesses to spend as freely as individuals in campaigns.

By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times
January 4, 2012

Reporting from Seattle— Montana has engaged in a long, slow dance between corporations and politicians through much of its history. The free-spending audacity of the copper kings during the early 20th century — when mining czar W.A. Clark bought himself a seat in the U.S. Senate — are the stuff of Western lore.

In an attempt to fight back, Montana voters in 1912 passed an initiative barring direct corporate contributions to political candidates and parties — a law that, like those in many states across the country, was undone by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010. The controversial decision gave corporations the same 1st Amendment rights as citizens and allowed businesses to freely spend their way into the nation’s political debates.

Now the Montana Supreme Court has issued a forceful rebuff of that decision.

In a new opinion drawing on Montana’s coal and copper mining history, the court upheld the state’s century-old corporate contribution limits, concluding that “the corporate power that can be exerted with unlimited political spending is still a vital interest to the people of Montana.”

The decision, handed down last week, applies only to state elections in Montana. But if it is appealed as expected, the case could provide the long-awaited vehicle critics have sought for the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit the issue decided in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission.

In a 5-2 opinion, the Montana court’s majority concluded that the state’s long history of well-funded natural resource extractors, small population and historically inexpensive political campaigns allow it to demonstrate compelling government interest in regulating corporate financial muscle. Even one of the justices who dissented — saying that the U.S. Supreme Court left no room for states to exempt themselves — argued forcefully against the broad corporate latitude encompassed in the Citizens United decision.

Read the entire article, here.