U.S. SC overturns Mont. corporate spending ban

John O'Brien Jun. 25, 2012, 9:34am


WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - The U.S. Supreme Court has overturned a Montana campaign finance law, arguing that its 2010 decision in Citizens United requires it to do so.

The Montana Supreme Court had ruled the decision was not in conflict with a state law that was challenged by a group of corporations. The Corrupt Practices Act prohibits corporate contributions in state political campaigns.

Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to reverse the Montana Supreme Court's decision.

"The question presented in this case is whether the holding of Citizens United applies to the Montana state law," a one-page, per curiam majority opinion says.

"There can be no serious doubt that it does."

Chief Justice John Roberts and justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Anthony Kennedy made up the majority. Justice Stephen Breyer issued a short dissent, in which justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined.

Breyer said he would have voted for review of the issue but, given the majority opinion, decided not to.

"(E)ven if I were to accept Citizens United, this Court's legal conclusion should not bar the Montana Supreme Court's finding, made on the record before it, that independent expenditures by corporations did in fact lead to corruption or the appearance of corruption in Montana," Breyer wrote.

"Given the history and political landscape in Montana, that court concluded that the State had a compelling interest in limiting independent expenditures by corporations."

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.

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

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

In light of the Citizens United ruling, most states with laws on corporate spending bans stopped enforcing their own restrictions.

Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock defended the CPA and received support from 22 state attorneys general.

Bullock, in a January interview on veteran talk radio host Ed Schultz's "The Ed Show" on MSNBC, admitted there was a chance that the U.S. Supreme Court could strike down his case.

"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 Schultz. "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."

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