Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Montana Opposition to Citizens United

In 2010, the United States Supreme Court decided in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision that corporation could not be denied the right to contribute money in political campaigns. The foundation of the majority opinion, as written by Justice Kennedy, was that 1) corporations are persons and have all the right and privileges of persons; and 2) free speech precludes the restrictions on the amount of money people and corporations can contribute to political causes. This permits corporations to give as much money as they might want to a Political Action Committees (PAC). 

The results of the decision can be seen in the current Republican primaries. All the candidates have in addition to their own campaign committee have a PAC that is supporting them. There are regulations about how there should be a separation between the PAC's and the campaigns, but there are several situations, where the separation is not really that apparent.The managers of the PAC's are often close associates of  the candidates. The separation seems to be only in the word of the people involved. 

The latest chapter to the legal story has recently occurred in Montana. There was a challenge to the states Corrupt Practices Act, which was passed in Montana in 1912. (The act was in response to the corruption in the state at that time largely involving three individuals called the Copper Kings, who controlled the mining around Butte, MT. They spent a lot of money to control the government and courts in the state.) In their opinion on the act, the Montana Supreme Court did not agree with the US Supreme Court that not having the limits does not necessary lead to corruption or the appearance of corruption. The state history was too much for them to ignore.

Just this past week, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen G. Breyer stayed the Montana decision. So the Corruption Law is now not enforced. The twist to the stay was that the two Federal judges recommended that the Citizen United decision be reconsidered by the US Supreme Court. This might be a possibility that  the whole matter will be reconsidered. 

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