WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Friday blocked a Montana court ruling upholding limits on corporate campaign spending. The state court ruling appears to be at odds with the high court’s 2010 decision striking down a federal ban on those campaign expenditures.
The justices put the Montana ruling on hold while they consider an appeal from corporations seeking to be free of spending limits. The state argues, and the Montana Supreme Court agreed, that political corruption gave rise to the century-old ban on corporate campaign spending.
In the 2010 Citizens United case, a sharply divided Supreme Court ruled that independent spending by corporations does “not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a dissenter in Citizens United, issued a brief statement for herself and Justice Stephen Breyer saying that campaign spending since the decision makes “it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations ‘do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.'”
Ginsburg appeared to be referring to the rise of unregulated super PACs that have injected millions of dollars into the Republican presidential campaign. She said the case “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.”
The court’s action Friday does not mean the justices eventually will hear the case. Their most likely course might be simply reversing the state court ruling.
It probably will be several months before they decide what to do.
American Tradition Partnership, based in Washington, D.C., led the challenge to the state’s 1912 Corrupt Practices Act. A lower state court ruled that the state law was unconstitutional in the wake of the Citizens United decision.
But in December, the Montana Supreme Court said the law could remain in place because it was a response to political corruption and allows for some corporate spending.
Montana holds primary elections on June 5, and American Tradition Partnership and two other corporations wanted to be free of the state limits in time to influence those elections.
Attorney General Steve Bullock issued the following statement after Friday’s decision:
“While I’m disappointed that for the first time in 100 years Montanans won’t be able to rely on our corporate spending ban to safeguard the integrity of our elections, I am encouraged that the Supreme Court will give this careful consideration and I look forward to continuing to fight for Montana in defending our century-old law,” Bullock said.
“For more than a century, anyone has been able to participate in Montana elections – even out-of-state corporate executives. All we required is that they used their own money, not that of their stockholders, and they disclosed who they are.”
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