corporate political spending
Statement of American Tradition Partnership Executive Director Donald Ferguson and Montana Volunteer Coordinator Doug Lair
“Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision Friday to grant Montanans a stay of Montana’s Supreme Court’s erroneous ruling is a win for everyone’s First Amendment rights.
“The United States Constitution protects Americans’ God-given right to associate and speak freely, even if we choose to do that under the corporate structure. Stripping people of their right to engage in political speech because you do not like the identity of the speaker is an assault on this republic’s founding principles. The law and the Constitution are on our side and we expect to win yet again when this matter is considered by U.S. Supreme Court.
“Montana’s political and media establishment are fighting American Tradition Partnership’s grassroots volunteers because free speech threatens their monopoly on political speech in Montana. As a grassroots-founded, people-powered advocate for rational environmental policies and free speech we will continue to fight the corrupt and lawless political machine in Helena, as well as the anti-jobs radicals at the Sierra Club who want to kill pipelines and progress itself.”
WASHINGTON – American Tradition Partnership Executive Director Donald Ferguson released the statement below Thursday afternoon. ATP will be represented by lead attorney James Bopp of the James Madison Center for Free Speech.
“American Tradition Partnership will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the Montana state Supreme Court’s incorrect and contemptuous ruling last week.
“We, and impartial legal scholars, are confident these unbiased courts will uphold the First Amendment rights of Montanans to speak freely about powerholders.
“To ban political speech based on nothing more than the identity of the speaker is to strike at the very heart of the God-given rights protected by the First Amendment. Those politicians who seek to stop Montanans from associated and speaking freely are themselves the modern equivalent of the Copper Kings, who in their time perverted law and justice to suppress voices of opposition to their policies.”
“In today’s Western Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Attorney General, the Montana Supreme Court upheld a ban on corporate expenditures to speak in support of or opposition to political candidates — pretty much the same sort of ban that the United States Supreme Court struck down in Citizens United v. FEC. The majority argues that Citizens United is distinguishable, because of Montana’s “unique” interests stemming from its history, its size, and its political culture,” “The Volkoh Conspiracy,” a blog run and written by law professors writes Friday.
The professors quote from the majority ruling, as well as the dissent:
“Having considered the matter, I believe the Montana Attorney General has identified some very compelling reasons for limiting corporate expenditures in Montana’s political process. The problem, however, is that regardless of how persuasive I may think the Attorney General’s justifications are, the Supreme Court has already rebuffed each and every one of them. Accordingly, as much as I would like to rule in favor of the State, I cannot in good faith do so…. I cannot agree that [the majority’s] “Montana is unique” rationale is consistent with Citizens United….
[W]hat has happened here is essentially this: The Supreme Court in Citizens United … rejected several asserted governmental interests; and this Court has now come along, retrieved those interests from the garbage can, dusted them off, slapped a “Made in Montana” sticker on them, and held them up as grounds for sustaining a patently unconstitutional state statute….”
“My sense is that the disagreement with Citizens United is so striking that it is likely that the Supreme Court will agree to hear the case, and will reverse the Montana Supreme Court’s decision,” they conclude.
“There is so much wrong with this opinion one hardly knows where to begin,” the Center for Campaign Freedom writes.
They go on to state:
“…as the dissent by Justice James Nelson notes:
The Supreme Court could not have been more clear in Citizens United: corporations have broad rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution to engage in political speech, and corporations cannot be prohibited from using general treasury funds for this purpose based on antidistortion, anticorruption, or shareholder protected interests. The language of the Citizens United majority opinion is remarkably sweeping and leaves virtually no conceivable basis for muzzling or otherwise restricting corporate political speech in the form of independent expenditures.
… [E]very one of the Attorney General’s arguments – and this Court’s rationale for adopting those arguments – was argued, considered, and then flatly rejected by the Supreme Court.
“The MSC seems to think that Citizen’s United was a mere, as-applied, fact specific challenge, similar to Federal Election Commission v. Massachusetts Citizens for Life, wherein the Court held that a small, volunteer non-profit literally raising money through bake sales could not be subject to the ban on corporate expenditures.
“In fact, Citizens United’s holding that independent expenditures are not “corrupting” is not a statement of fact, but a statement of law…”
They then write:
“In any event, given this misunderstanding of the Supreme Court’s order in Citizens United - although unlike the poor Earl Lucan, here the MSC’s misunderstanding may have been intentional – the MSC has charged into the Valley of Death.”
“In upholding a century-old state ban on corporate spending in politics, Montana’s top court last week issued a rebuke of the U.S. Supreme Court‘s landmark Citizens United ruling that has been cited in challenges to local campaign finance laws,” international news source Investor’s Business Times reports this morning.
“…The law was challenged by a painting and drywall business, a Second Amendment advocacy group and an organization the Montana Supreme Court described as a “conduit of funds for… corporations who want to spend money anonymously to influence Montana elections.
“This organization, now known as American Tradition Partnership, is also challenging Montana’s law in federal court.
“The groups challenging the Big Sky State’s anti-corruption law say the Citizens United decision clearly states that government cannot restrict protected political speech. A trial court in Montana agreed and struck down the law.
“But the state Supreme Court overturned the decision, taking a more narrow view of the Citizens United decision, which concerned a federal law preventing corporations from “electioneering” by issuing political ads within 30 days of a primary and 60 days of a general election…
American Tradition Partnership’s executive director, Donald Ferguson, said in a statement that the Montana Supreme Court has “shown contempt for the overriding law of the land and has thumbed its nose at the United States Supreme Court.”
“Regardless of whether one believes corporations have the right to spend their money to do independent political ads, the Supreme Court has specifically addressed this question as a matter of constitutional law and the Montana Supreme Court has no authority or basis to tell the Supreme Court it is wrong,” he added.
“In a dissent, Justice Beth Baker agreed with Ferguson, predicting the majority’s ruling will be a “vain attempt to rescue Montana’s Corrupt Practices Act.”
“I believe it is our unflagging obligation, in keeping with the courts’ duty to safeguard the rule of law, to honor the decisions of our nation’s highest court,” she wrote. “Citizens United makes clear that a state’s outright ban on corporate political expenditures violates the First Amendment.”
Read the entire story here.
“On Friday, the Montana Supreme Court restored a 100-year-old state ban on direct spending by corporations on political candidates or committees, saying that the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC dealt with federal laws and elections, but the “vast majority” of elections are held at state and local levels, AP reports,” The Wall Street Journal reports this morning.
“American Tradition Partnership Executive Director Donald Ferguson said in a statement the Montana Supreme court showed ‘contempt’ for the law of the land and ‘thumbed its nose at the United States Supreme Court,’” the Journal reports.
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