High Court Keeps Money Ban in Place Until Review

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Three groups asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday to allow corporations to spend freely to influence Montana elections this year, after the state’s high court this week refused their request to suspend a state ban on independent campaign spending.

The American Tradition Partnership and two other groups filed papers with Justice Anthony Kennedy, saying that the Montana ban is out of step with his majority opinion in the 2010 Citizens United case that struck down a federal ban on independent campaign spending.

Montana holds primary elections on June 5, “making it vital that planning begin now for independent expenditures before the election,” the filing said.

After the Citizens United decision, American Tradition Partnership, Champion Painting and Montana Shooting Sports Association sued to overturn Montana’s Corrupt Practices Act ,arguing that it unconstitutionally blocks political speech by corporations.

The state Supreme Court ruled in December the Montana law could remain in place because it was a response to political corruption and allows for some corporate spending.

The groups then asked the Montana Supreme Court to stay its decision until the U.S. Supreme Court decides to review the case. The state high court refused that request on Wednesday.

Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock welcomed the state court’s decision, saying in a statement that “it preserved the integrity of our elections and the voice of the people in the political process.”

The three groups in Friday’s filing asked the U.S. Supreme Court to summarily reverse the state court’s decision to uphold the ban.

“The lower court’s refusal to follow Citizen’s United is such an obvious, blatant disregard of its duty to follow this Court’s decisions that summary reversal is proper,” the filing read.

The state law, which passed as a ballot initiative in 1912, was created as the result of past political corruption led by the famed Butte “Copper Kings” who dominated Montana politics long ago.

American Tradition Partnership, previously called Western Tradition Partnership, is known for its hard-hitting attack mailers, which it has produced without filing disclosures on spending or donors, arguing it does not need to.

It has a separate state lawsuit challenging the right of the state to penalize it for not making those disclosures, and a federal lawsuit that challenges many other aspects of state campaign finance regulations and disclosure requirements.