By Charles S. Johnson

Missoulian State Bureau

January 4, 2012

HELENA – Some national legal experts believe the U.S. Supreme Court almost surely will have the final word on the recent Montana Supreme Court decision that reinstated the state’s century-old ban on corporate spending for or against state political candidates.

American Tradition Partnership, the lead plaintiff challenging Montana’s law, is considering its legal options but has not yet announced its specific plans, Donald Ferguson, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based group, has said. The group was known as Western Tradition Partnership when it challenged the Montana law.

On Friday, the Montana Supreme Court, in a 5-2 ruling, overturned a state District Court decision that had struck down Montana’s 1912 voter-passed law prohibiting corporate contributions in state political campaigns. District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock had declared the Montana law unconstitutional after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

“It’s a pretty safe bet the plaintiffs will seek review in the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Paul Ryan, attorney for the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit Washington group that advocates strong campaign finance laws.

Ryan said he supports the Montana Supreme Court ruling and is highly critical of the 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which cleared the way for corporations to spend money in political campaigns as part of their free speech rights.