Montana gives Citizens United a pass
Thanks very much, says state’s supreme court, but corporations aren’t people, money isn’t speech
Published: February 22, 2012
The more we read about the U.S. Supreme Court's dreadful Citizens United vs. FEC decision and the bitter fruit it has produced, the more irate we become.
Thanks to this 5-4 ruling handed down a little more than two years ago, the floodgates have opened up and money is pouring into so-called Super PACs that can spend limitless amounts of cash to influence what used to be known as the democratic process. The only restriction placed on these entities is the dictate that they can't funnel money directly into a cadidtate's campaign coffers. But as long there's a fig leaf of separation between PAC and campaign, then the corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals who want to influence the outcome of elections are free to run all the sleazy attacks ads and propaganda pieces they desire.
What has us particularly fired up at the moment isn't the latest televised smear job, though. Instead it is a particularly illuminating item Richard L. Hasen posted on Slate.com.
The story involves the Montana Supreme Court, which, as Hasen puts it, "thumbed its nose" at the Citizens United decision. Good for them.
At the heart of that decision is the concept that corporations are entitled to the same First Amendment protections the Constitution gives real people. Part of the reasoning, according to Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion, is the conclusion that "independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption."
But the Montana court looked at that astounding bit of reasoning and then ruled that a state law banning corporations from spending money on campaign ads was indeed legal because, as Hasen explains, the Montana justices determined that there is "a large history of corporate spending corrupting the political process here, so our state's laws are justified."
Our guess is that the Big Sky country isn't the only place in America where reasonable people would reach that conclusion.
And as long as that's the case, argues Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, then the U.S. Supremes need to take another look at Citizens United.
As she explained in a recent statement: "Montana's experience, and experience elsewhere since this Court's decision in Citizens United ... make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations 'do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.'"
Hearing the Montana case, she contends, will give the court "an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates' allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway."
In other words, even if the court's five conservative justices are truly dense enough to believe that a corporation would spend millions of dollars getting a candidate elected without expecting to get something in return, the general public isn't anywhere near that stupid. As a result, faith in the integrity of our democratic system is being severely undermined.
Unfortunately, as Hasen writes, "everyone expects the Supreme Court to reverse the Montana case, likely on a 5-4 vote."
It is possible that sanity will prevail and one of the five will take to heart what Ginsburg is saying and realize how terribly wrong they were. But not likely.
"At the very least," concludes Hasen, "she will speak truth to power."
But we don't think that's near good enough. Instead of speaking truth to power, people need to grab hold of the power given them in the Constitution and start giving serious consideration to passing a constitutional amendment that declares corporations aren't people and money isn't speech.
As pointed out in our recent cover story "We the corporations," you can begin by going to the website movetoamend.org and getting involved in the effort.
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