Montana’s Political Courage

By Beacon Staff

In one of the first initiatives Montana voters passed, the 100-year-old Corrupt Practices Act prohibits direct corporate campaign contributions. Montana’s state and local elections are still transparent by mandated disclosure laws.

The U.S. Constitution never gave person-rights to corporations. The activist U.S. Supreme Court reopened those floodgates with Citizens United. Justice John Paul Stevens said in his dissent that the ruling “threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the nation. The path it has taken to reach its outcome will, I fear, do damage to this institution.”

President Barack Obama, in a rare State of the Union repudiation, said the court, “reversed a century of law” and allowed “foreign corporations to spend without limits in our elections.” Observers noted that an attending Justice Samuel Alito mouthed the words “not true.”

Montana’s Corrupt Practices Act was a reaction to nefarious acts in the state Legislature where big money was essentially buying votes to select the next U.S. senator. Quickly, Montana citizens adopted the ban on direct corporate spending.

In an email to constituents, Montana Sen. Jon Tester wrote, “We all know what happens when Wall Street banks and other powerful special interests get their way: partisanship trumps citizenship and special interests get a free pass to pollute our elections. And when it comes time to balance the budget, Medicare and Social Security end up on the chopping block.”

Montana still allows corporate spending on local elections, but through a transparent vehicle called Political Action Committees. PACs disclose where the money came from and how it is spent.

Flexing their muscles, the National Association of Realtors spent nearly $2 million in PAC money to successfully pass a Montana constitutional initiative that bars real estate transfer taxes.

Montana has a long history of transparent government. The concept that corporation are people makes little sense to Middle America. Montanans want to keep that right to see who is funding politics.

The GOP attempted to nullify anything federal that moved in the 2011 Montana Legislature. It is a bit ironic that Republican candidates have not asserted a states’ rights defense on the Montana Supreme Court ruling. Apparently for political elections, the Montana GOP leadership prefers that corporations remain people. Or that is the impression imprinted in voters’ minds.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, unless unlimited super PAC spending has an effect. Ironically it was Romney who famously stated, “Corporations are people, my friend.” And the primary voters of South Carolina were inundated by a tidal wave of negative media purchased with a single $5 million super PAC check.

Last November the citizens of Missoula pushed through an initiative calling for an end to corporate personhood. It passed by a whopping 3-to-1 margin. More Montana towns may be forced to take action, as real people find their political courage and say, “enough is enough.”

It’s hard to believe that Congress would not fix this supreme mess. Only the worst Congress ever would do nothing.

Thanks to Attorney General Steve Bullock, Montana is notably the only state in the nation fighting to protect the rights of people to participate in fair and transparent elections. Middle class people appreciate the political courage to act and speak out. Bullock deserves credit. Whether the U.S. Supreme Court is ticked at the gall of Montana to challenge their decree remains to be seen.

For Montana, and its local towns and school boards, it is publicly irresponsible to allow mega corporations and big money to dump unlimited and secret cash into our hometown elections. Democracy is not about money. It is not about secret donations. Democracy is about public trust, real people, vibrant communities and actual lives.

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