News Release

Money in Politics: Citizens United Setback in Montana; Gingrich Hoisted on Own Petard


Truth-out reports: “In a rebuke to the United States Supreme Court, the Supreme Court of Montana has held that Citizens United does not apply to Montana campaign finance law.

“Last Friday, the Montana Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a 1912 voter initiative – the Corrupt Practices Act – that prohibits corporations from making contributions to or expenditures on behalf of state political candidates and political parties. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that a similar federal prohibition was unconstitutional, prompting a wave of bills and court rulings that erased prohibitions on corporate and union political expenditures around the country.”

Milchen is a co-founder of the American Independent Business Alliance, a network of 80 community organizations supporting local independent businesses based in Bozeman, Montana.

Writing for AMIBA, which joined Free Speech for People in an amicus brief to the Montana Supreme Court, Milchen said “Observing oral arguments in the Montana Supreme Court chamber last September, I could see conflict in the faces of several Justices as they probed whether Montana’s ban on direct corporate electioneering could withstand the pending challenge in Western Tradition Partnership (WTP) v Montana. The terse tone of many questions belied the Justice’s frustration with the U.S. Supreme Court’s rationale in Citizens United v FEC, which inspired WTP’s lawsuit by striking down a federal law similar to Montana’s.

The law in question, the Corrupt Practices Act, had stood for 99 years since Montana citizens passed an initiative in response to some of the most overt corporate corruption in American history.

“Five of the seven Justices found the State’s defense compelling. In a December 30 ruling with national implications, the Court overturned a lower court ruling and rejected arguments that Citizens United rendered the Corrupt Practices Act unconstitutional.

“Key distinctions in Montana’s circumstances included the State presenting extensive evidence of actual corruption, which the U.S. Supreme Court found lacking in Citizens United. And while Citizens United did not address non-partisan and judicial elections, Montana’s law protects the very Justices who decided the case from being intimidated or corrupted. Montana’s ruling quoted the U.S. Supreme Court’s own opinion in Caperton v Massey Coal (2009), stating, ‘Judicial integrity [is] a state interest of the highest order.’

“The Citizens United ruling also birthed ‘super PACs’ which can accept unlimited donations to support a candidate and attack his or her opponents. Newt Gingrich, who previously hailed Citizens United as a ‘great victory for free speech,’ was stung by an outpouring of TV ads funded by super PACS supporting his opponents. He went from frontrunner to fourth-place finisher in just weeks.”

Milchen added: “Despite the Montana Justices’ efforts to differentiate WTP v Montana from Citizens United, an appeal is likely. If granted, the case may create a true focal point to unite the energy of Occupiers fed up with corporate corruption, Tea Partiers who advocate for states’ rights, and the nearly 80 percent of Americans who support amending the Constitution to explicitly state what is obvious to most of us, but not to five men sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court: the Bill of Rights was enacted to protect the rights of actual human beings.”

AMIBA was party to briefs in both CU v FEC and WTP v Montana. See: “Granting Corporations Bill of Rights Protections Is Not ‘Pro-business.'”