The Supreme Court on Monday struck down Montana’s attempt to limit campaign contributions, citing the Citizens United ruling that opened the floodgates for unlimited corporate campaign spending.
The 5-4 ruling was made on partisan lines, with the conservative majority voting to summarily dismiss the Montana case without oral arguments.
At issue was whether Montana elections are bound by the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, which allowed corporations, unions and other special interests to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money whenever they please to overtly advocate for or against political candidates.
The majority wrote that “there can be no serious doubt” that Citizens United applies.
In a brief dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer expressed concern for the state of Montana’s campaign finance system.
“[E]ven if I were to accept Citizens United, this Court’s legal conclusion should not bar the Montana Supreme Court’s finding … that independent expenditures by corporations did in fact lead to corruption or the appearance of corruption in Montana,” he wrote.
Campaign finance deregulation advocates touted the decision as a victory for open discourse in American politics.
“Another win for the First Amendment,” declared David Bossie, president of Citizens United.
“Clearly, the much predicted corporate tsunami that critics of Citizens United warned about simply did not occur,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who of late has panned reformers’ efforts to more stringently regulate the nation’s campaign finance system.
The decision is a disappointment for those reformers who had hoped the Montana case would prompt the high court to revisit the Citizens United decision, even if the odds of the Supreme Court markedly changing that decision — the court’s philosophical makeup hasn’t changed since 2010 — appeared slim.
“Citizens and the nation are not going to accept the Supreme Court imposed campaign finance system that allows our government to be auctioned off to billionaires, millionaires, corporate funders and other special interests using political money to buy influence and results,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, promising that a “major national campaign finance reform movement” will begin after this year’s national elections.
Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, derided the court’s decision as “arrogant,” and underscoring “the need for quick action on a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and allow sensible restrictions on political spending.”
This latest campaign finance ordeal began when the conservative American Tradition Partnership challenged Montana’s century-old Corrupt Practices Act — a challenge that reached the state’s Supreme Court.
The court last year upheld the law, which is roundly touted by Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) and many other state politicians as a time-tested elixir to corruption and corporate dominance in state elections.
But the U.S. Supreme Court in February ordered that Montana stop enforcing it pending its own review of whether it violates federal mandate.
Steve Bullock, Montana’s attorney general, argued earlier this month that the overturning of the Corrupt Practices Act would “make our political process unrecognizable.”
States, he said, “should have the right to be the masters of their own elections” because “the integrity of our system and the voices of Montanans, whatever their political views, are too important to be drowned out by modern-day copper kings.”