David Sirota


January 6, 2012

The Montana AG explains why his state’s challenge to the controversial decision could hold up in the Supreme Court.

Last week, while the national press corps was busy pretending the tiny Iowa caucus was the only news in America, a major ruling out of Montana paved the way for a likely U.S. Supreme Court showdown over the role of corporate money in politics.

In the case, which was spearheaded by the state’s Democratic Attorney General Steve Bullock, Montana’s top court restored Big Sky country’s century-old law banning corporations from directly spending on political candidates or committees. Legal experts believe that upon appeal, this case will come before the nation’s highest court. While there, it could serve as the first test of the precedents in the infamous Citizens United decision that essentially allows unfettered corporate spending in campaigns.

This week on my weekday morning radio show on KKZN-AM760, I spoke with Bullock about the case. What follows is an edited transcript of our discussion (you can find the full audio podcast here).

Walk us through what this case was all about and why it’s important not just for Montana but for politics all across the country.

It’s interesting because while this case is rooted in Montana, I think that it does have implications for politics throughout the country.

Montana (through) my office was the lead in writing the brief that half the states joined when the Supreme Court was considering Citizens United. (The brief) said that state elections, and corporations, and unlimited corporate spending don’t necessarily go together.

Montana has had on its books since 1912, which was passed by citizens initiative, a law called The Corrupt Practices Act. And what The Corrupt Practices Act did is essentially said that corporations cannot make expenditures or contributions in the political system. And we got there because our history was rooted in corporate domination of elections. It was in 1906 that a paper in Montana said, “the greatest living question of the day is whether corporations shall control the people or the people shall control the corporations.” And at the time the Copper Kings as they were called, those mine (owners) that mined copper in Montana literally owned our legislature, our judges, our local county planning boards. It was all throughout and it was at one point called “the Montana situation.”

So we have a real background in the unfortunate effects of unlimited corporate expenditures in elections and as a result when Citizens United came down dealing with federal law and federal elections it wasn’t something that I wanted to just give up on the last hundred years in Montana. We defended out laws, right before New Year’s Eve the Montana Supreme Court said that our ban on corporate expenditures remains constitutional.

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