Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Montana Supreme Court Upholds Century-Old Law Banning Political Spending by Corporations

In a decision certain to intrigue nonprofit practitioners and scholars alike, the Montana Supreme Court upheld its century-old ban on corporate political expenditures (the state's 1912 Corrupt Practices Act), applying, yet ultimately ruling contrary to, the United States Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. F.E.C. (see prior blog postings on this seminal case here and here).   Plaintiffs sought to overturn the ban.  One of the plaintiffs, Western Tradition Partnership, now named American Tradition Partnership, is a "501(c)(4) grassroots lobbying organization dedicated to fighting environmental extremism and promoting responsible development and management of land, water, and natural resources in the Rocky Mountain West and across the United States." In its decision, the Montana Supreme Court, via a 5-justice majority opinion, concluded that the State has always had and continues to have a compelling interest in regulating corporate spending on political campaigns because of the state's history of past political corruption (the famed "Copper Kings").  In the conclusion of its opinion, the majority stated:

Citizens United does not compel a conclusion that Montana's law prohibiting independent political expenditures by a corporation related to a candidate is unconstitutional.  Rather, applying the principles enunicated in Citizens United, it is clear that Montana has a compelling interest to impose the challenged rationally-tailored statutory restrictions.

The majority clearly stated that corporations can speak through their own political action committees, which are both easy to form and to whom contributions are easy to make under Montana law, unlike the federal law PACs at issue in Citizens United.    

The two dissenting justices both wrote that Montana's outright ban on corporate political expenditures violates the First Amendment, as enunciated in Citizens United

See related articles on this decision in the L.A. Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Great Falls Tribune

(Hat Tip:  The Nonprofit Quarterly)


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