Mont. AG: 'Sad day for our democracy'

John O'Brien Jun. 25, 2012, 3:10pm


WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - Several state attorneys general are upset with Monday's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that overturned a Montana law preventing corporations from spending money on elections.

Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock was tasked with defending the state's Corrupt Practices Act, which the court found was in conflict with 2010 ruling in a case known as "Citizens United." The CPA prohibited corporate spending in state political campaigns.

Just as President Barack Obama was openly critical of the 2010 ruling, Bullock and other Democrats released statements Monday to voice their displeasure.

"It is a sad day for our democracy and for those of us who still want to believe that the United States Supreme Court is anything more than another political body in Washington, D.C.," Bullock said.

The court ruled 5-4 to reverse a decision by the Montana Supreme Court.

"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."

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.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley said, "The voices of individual voters will continue to be drowned out if corporations are allowed to spend billions in unreported and unaccounted funds to influence elections."

And New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the decision "gives short shrift to states' vital interests in protecting their democratic processes and institutions from the threats posed by unlimited corporate spending in campaigns."

Others, like Peter Ferrara of the Heartland Institute in Chicago, didn't see it that way.

"The Supreme Court today reaffirmed the obvious point that the Left is trying to shout down: Corporations are voluntary associations of people joining together to advance their goals, and so have the same rights as those people, including the right to freedom of speech," said Ferrara, the institute's senior fellow for entitlement and budget policy.

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