One of the recurring themes of the Tea Party movement is the recognition that special interests exert far more influence over government than do individual voters and citizens. Yet that same movement seems oblivious to the fact that unlimited, undisclosed political expenditures by corporations will compound the power of special interests at the expense of the average citizen. The next time a major industry wants a bailout a la the hated TARP, for example, its ability to win friends and allies in Congress will be limited only by its willingness to spend money in the right places.
A Montana judge says the state’s century-old ban on corporate political spending is unconstitutional.
District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock of Helena on Monday tossed out the 1912 Corrupt Practices Act that prohibits corporations from making independent political expenditures.
Sherlock ruled in favor of conservative think-tank Western Tradition Partnership.
That group challenged the law this year after the U.S. Supreme Court threw out parts of a federal law that prohibited corporations and unions from paying for advertisements for or against political candidates.
Attorney General Steve Bullock had argued that the state’s ban is unique and should stand despite the Supreme Court decision. He says Montana’s law was in response to corporate mining barons taking over state politics.
The judge’s ruling is, sadly, correct in wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” ruling. Justice Anthony Kennedy, in his majority opinion, concluded that “independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption,” and thus cannot be banned.
Montana’s experience offers significant proof that Kennedy is a naive fool with no practical concept of how money influences government. As the WSJ notes:
“Montana has restricted corporate electioneering since 1904, when the state Supreme Court, siding with shareholders, ruled that mining executives misappropriated corporate funds by spending them ‘for strictly political purposes.’ Back then, Montana was a battleground between its small resident population and out-of-state corporate barons who controlled its natural resources. With mining and railroad interests spending millions to elect pliant state legislators, Montana voters fought back with their first-ever ballot initiative, passing the Corrupt Practices Act by a 3-1 margin.”
One of the three plaintiffs seeking to overturn the Montana law was the Montana Shooting Sports Association, a gun rights organization. But as association President Gary Marbut told the WSJ, even he’s worried about the consequences of winning the lawsuit.
“There’s a difference between groups like us and the Exxons of the world,” Marbut says. “We don’t want to recreate the Copper Kings era, when they owned Montana and we were their servants.”
Yeah, well. Too late for that now, huh?