Gavel Grab

Editorial: Montana Ruling Clouds Democracy’s Future

The Supreme Court has “blocked off sensible solutions” for reasonable campaign finance rules, a USA Today editorial commented on a ruling in a Montana case this week.

The court overturned a century-old Montana anti-corruption law that prohibited independent expenditures by corporations on state elections. The law had held up for decades with backing by governors and legislatures from both parties in a state where political corruption, and the big money enabling it, earlier was  king.

In striking down Montana’s law, the Supreme Court found that it conflicted with its own landmark Citizens United ruling from 2010. In Citizens United, the court had said it did not believe unlimited political expenditures would give rise to corruption or its appearance. The editorial disagreed:

“Perhaps the majority has not been paying attention. Already this year, several congressional primaries have been won by candidates who benefited from a flood of last-minute money into independent advertising. In some cases, voters didn’t know the identity of the people giving this money or the donors’ agendas.”

The editorial concluded, “The future, it seems, might not be so far removed from Montana’s past.”

In disagreement, former Federal Election Commission chairman Bradley Smith wrote, also in USA Today, an essay entitled, “Montana gave Supreme Court no choice.” In the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, an editorial took a similar stance.

There were related news articles about campaign finance disclosure and regulation. “Campaign money case could propel more deregulation,” CBS News reported. “High court ruling throws state campaign law into doubt,” said a Minneapolis Star-Tribune headline.

Justice at Stake and eight retired Montana Supreme Court justices had filed an amicus brief in the case, in an effort to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the Montana statute.

“Unfortunately, the Supreme Court’s decision ignores the damage that special interest money is inflicting on America’s state courts,”  Bert Brandenburg, JAS executive director, said in a statement following the court’s ruling on Monday. “The threat to fair and impartial elected courts in America is even clearer now than when Citizens United was issued.”

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