montana campaign law

Campaign finance experts: Mont. Supreme Court erred badly in ruling

Posted on January 3, 2012 by Donald Ferguson

“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.”

IBT: Citizens United Has No Place in Big Sky Country: Mont. Supreme Court

Posted on by Donald Ferguson

“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.

ATP reviewing legal options after Montana SC rules against speech

Posted on January 2, 2012 by Donald Ferguson

By a 5-2 vote, a split Montana Supreme Court ruled Friday citizens may not engage in political speech while freely organized as a corporation.

“The Montana Supreme Court, through this decision, has shown contempt for the overriding law of the land and has thumbed its nose at the United States Supreme Court, which has specifically held that the State of Montana has no interest in prohibiting people who associate together from speaking,” said American Tradition Partnership Executive Director Donald Ferguson.

“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.”

“I respect the Montana Supreme Court I feel Judge Sherlock and Justices Baker and Nelson, along with the U.S. Supreme Court and the plain language of the First Amendment are correct in stating employers have a right to free speech and free association.  We feel Montanans do not forfeit their freedoms of speech and association simply because they associate as a corporation.”

In his dissent, Justice James Nelson wrote:

I disagree with the Court’s decision to parse Citizens United in a fashion so as to “send a message” to, or be the next “test case” before, the Supreme Court. In my view, this approach is disingenuous. Montana is in the same First Amendment swimming pool as every other state, and the Supreme Court has dictated that its waters are expansive and deep when it comes to corporate political speech. Citizens United is the law of the land, and this Court is duty-bound to follow it.

When this case is appealed to the Supreme Court, as I expect it will be, a summary reversal on the merits would not surprise me in the least. [emphasis added]

In my opinion, District Court Judge Sherlock’s well-reasoned and courageous—though politically unpopular—decision should be affirmed. I cannot agree with this Court’s determination not to do so.

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