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Montana Supreme Court upholds state ban on corporation spending
HELENA — The Montana Supreme Court on Friday overturned a lower court’s ruling and reinstated the state’s century-old ban on direct spending by corporations for or against political candidates.
The justices ruled 5-2 in favor of the state attorney general’s office and commissioner of political practices to uphold the initiative passed by Montana voters in 1912.
Western Tradition Partnership, a conservative political group now known as American Tradition Partnership, joined by Champion Painting Inc., and the Montana Shooting Sports Association Inc., had challenged the Montana ban after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The U.S. Supreme Court decision granted political speech rights to corporations.
District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock of Helena ruled that the U.S. Supreme Court decision rendered the Montana ban unconstitutional.
But the Montana Supreme Court’s majority saw it differently and overturned Sherlock.
“Citizens United does not compel a conclusion that Montana’s law prohibiting independent political expenditures by a corporation related to a candidate is unconstitutional,” Chief Justice Mike McGrath wrote for the majority. “Rather, applying the principles enunciated in Citizens United, it is clear that Montana has a compelling interest to impose the challenged rationally tailored statutory restriction.”
The court held that corporations are not deprived of political speech by the Montana law.
They can form political committees, as many other groups have done, but must file reports disclosing where they raised their money and how they spent it. They also can hire legislative lobbyists.
“The many lobbyists and political committees who participate in each session of the Montana Legislature bear witness,” the majority opinion said. “Under the undisputed fact here, the political committee is an easily implemented and effective alternative to direct corporate spending for engaging in political speech.”