Mont. AG appears on talk show to discuss state SC ruling

Jessica M. Karmasek Jan. 13, 2012, 10:37am


NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) - Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock appeared on a prime time talk show Thursday to discuss his state's position on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on corporate campaign spending.

In a three-minute spot at the end of veteran talk radio host Ed Schultz's "The Ed Show" on MSNBC, Bullock said he is preparing for a showdown.

Last month, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 decision on corporate campaign spending is not in conflict with a state election law in Montana.

A group of business organizations led by Western Tradition Partnership filed a lawsuit challenging the state's Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits corporate contributions in state political campaigns.

The U.S. Supreme Court held that corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections cannot be limited because of the First Amendment.

A state court declared the CPA unconstitutional, but the state Supreme Court overturned that decision Dec. 30.

"Even if (the CPA) applies directly to WTP, WTP can still speak through its own political committee/PAC as hundreds of organizations do on an ongoing basis," Justice Mike McGrath wrote.

"Unlike the federal law PACs considered in Citizens United, under Montana law political committees are easy to establish and easy to use to make independent expenditures for political speech."

The 5-4 ruling in favor of Citizens United stemmed from a dispute over whether the non-profit corporation could air a film critical of current U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The decision infuriated President Barack Obama, who criticized the majority in a State of the Union Address.

Obama said the ruling would "open the floodgates for special interests to spend without limit" in elections.

The ruling overturned a ban on spending in support of or in opposition to a candidate -- i.e. advertising -- but kept in tact a law that forbids companies from donating funds directly from their treasuries to candidates.

In light of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, most states with laws on corporate spending bans have stopped enforcing their own restrictions.

That is, all but one -- Montana.

On Thursday, Schultz asked Bullock, who personally argued for the State in the Montana case, whether there is a chance the U.S. Supreme Court would strike down the case.

Western Tradition Partnership -- now American Tradition Partnership -- said last week it has decided to appeal the case to the nation's highest court.

The attorney general said he thinks "there is" a chance the Court would strike it down.

"At the end of the day, the Citizens United decision dealt with a completely different electoral system -- the federal elections and federal laws," Bullock said. "But the vast majority of elections are at the state and local level.

"There are real differences there. That's what we pushed, and I think that the Court would recognize that."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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