WASHINGTON -- Campaign finance reform groups and elected officials in Montana and the nation's capital panned the Supreme Court's decision Monday to deny a hearing to a Montana law that butts heads with the court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
Two years ago in Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court had freed corporations and unions to spend unlimited sums of money on elections, concluding that such spending cannot corrupt the electoral process. But last year the Montana Supreme Court pointed to Montana's early 20th century history of corrupt corporate dominance and let stand the state's own Corrupt Practices Act, which bans independent election spending by corporations. On Monday, without oral argument, the high court by a 5-4 vote tossed that ruling in American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock.
Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) took to YouTube to issue a statement. "The United States Supreme Court has just told the American people that the facts don't matter when it comes to protecting Montana and the country from the corruption of corporate money in our democracy. Here in Montana we have a proud 100-year history of keeping corporate money out of our elections. Corporations aren't people, and they should not control our government," Schweitzer said.
Campaign finance reformers who helped to organize support in Montana's defense issued similar statements.
"The Supreme Court today has left standing the disastrous Citizens United decision and the enormous damage it is doing to our democracy and political system," longtime campaign finance reformer Fred Wertheimer said in a statement. "Nevertheless, the battle in Congress, the states and the courts for effective campaign finance laws to prevent the corruption of our officeholders and government decisions will go forward full speed ahead."
Public Citizen President Robert Weissman issued a call for a constitutional amendment to get money out of politics. "The Supreme Court continues to deny reality when it comes to assessing the impact of independent spending on elections. The court is not going to overturn Citizens United, at least in the near term. It thus falls on the people to overturn the court, through a constitutional amendment," Weissman said.
Others noted that Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock's effort to stave off the new campaign finance reality of unlimited corporate spending was unlikely to succeed.
"Unfortunately the only surprise would have been if the Supreme Court had taken the opportunity to revisit its horribly misguided decision in Citizens United," said Paul S. Ryan, the Campaign Legal Center's senior counsel, in a statement. "Clearly the Supreme Court has decided to wash its hands of the disastrous results of its earlier decision. Apparently the same five Justices who gave us Citizens United are not troubled by the fact that special interests are picking the winners and losers in our federal and state elections."
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who has become a leading figure fighting the Citizens United decision, issued a statement calling for renewed support for his campaign finance transparency bill, the Disclose Act. "The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn Montana's ban on corporate spending in elections is the wrong decision for Montana and it is the wrong decision for America. It flies in the face of the state's history of the corrosive influence of corporate spending and rejects the decision of Montana voters to rid their state of this corrupt influence. As Justice [Louis] Brandeis said, 'sunlight is the best disinfectant.' In this case, it may be the only disinfectant. Congress must pass the DISCLOSE Act so that the American people can see who is bankrolling this country's elections."
Supporters of the Citizens United ruling offered a different take on Monday's decision against the Montana law.
American Tradition Partnership, the organization that brought the challenge to the Corrupt Practices Act, claimed victory and called on both Schweitzer and Bullock to resign their posts immediately.
"Once again American Tradition Partnership has prevailed in court, for the simple reason the law and the Constitution are always on our side," the group said in a statement. "ATP has now emerged victorious in every case brought to a court of law. ... Both Governor Schweitzer and Attorney General Bullock assumed office by taking a sworn oath to uphold the rights of Montanans. Given Governor Schweitzer and Attorney General Bullock's latest court loss in a case in which they failed to honor their oath, American Tradition Partnership's grassroots members across Montana ask both men to tender their resignations immediately."
The Center for Competitive Politics, a group supportive of Citizens United and money in politics, said in a blog post on its website, "The First Amendment means the same thing in Montana as it does everywhere else in the country: people, no matter their associative status, may speak freely about politics."