Mont. AG opposes business group in campaign finance case

Jessica M. Karmasek Jan. 24, 2012, 12:00pm


HELENA, Mont. (Legal Newsline) - Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock is asking the state Supreme Court to shoot down a motion by a group of business organizations to stay a decision by the Court last month upholding a state election law.

The state's high court ruled that a U.S. Supreme Court decision on corporate campaign spending is not in conflict with the state's own law.

"Because this Court's judgment upholds the Corrupt Practices Act, the Corporations actually seek an injunction against the Act pending their petition for certiorari, not a stay," Bullock wrote in his opposition filed Monday.

"Such an injunction would disrupt nearly a century of campaign finance law in this State, unleashing the very evils this Court held Montanans have a compelling interest in preventing, in the midst of a primary campaign already in full swing."

The attorney general argues in his eight-page filing that maintenance of the "century-old status quo" would have no effect on two of the appellants, Champion and Montana Shooting Sports Association, and would have no "practical impact" on Western Tradition Partnership beyond compliance.

"The equities weigh heavily in favor of the State," Bullock wrote. "The Court should allow the Corporations' certiorari petition to proceed in its normal course without the extraordinary relief they seek."

The group of business organizations, led by Western Tradition, filed a lawsuit challenging the CPA, which prohibits corporate contributions in state political campaigns.

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court held that corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections cannot be limited because of the First Amendment.

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

The U.S. Supreme Court's 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 stopped enforcing their own restrictions.

That is, all but one -- Montana.

In an interview on veteran talk radio host Ed Schultz's "The Ed Show" on MSNBC, Bullock admitted there is a chance that the U.S. Supreme Court would strike down the case if and when it goes to the nation's high court.

"At the end of the day, the Citizens United decision dealt with a completely different electoral system -- the federal elections and federal laws," he told viewers. "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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