Uncommon Ground

One Person, One Vote

Proposal is to overturn the unpopular Citizens United decision

Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer joined Republican Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger and 93-year-old former Republican Secretary of State Verner Bertelsen in signing a citizens’ initiative to place on the November ballot a policy that states, “corporations are not entitled to constitutional rights because they are not human beings.”

The ballot initiative seeks Montana policy that charges state and federally elected officials with enactment.

“It’s never been a concern of the people of Montana to stand up to Washington, D.C. We did it on the Patriot Act, we did it on Real ID and we’ll do it on bribery,” said Schweitzer.

The long-term goal of the proposal is to overturn the unpopular 5-4 Citizens United decision by the United States Supreme Court that allows direct corporate spending on national, state and local elections.

This year, the Montana Supreme Court upheld the citizen-approved Montana’s Corrupt Practices Act banning corporate contributions in elections. The act resulted from nefarious acts in the Montana Legislature where big money was essentially buying votes in selecting the next U.S. senator. Montanans themselves adopted the ban.

Earlier, Chief Justice John Roberts penned an opinion explaining why his U.S. Supreme Court overruled a prior decision. The Roberts court opened the way for secret money. It fostered super PACs and allowed a mere handful of super-wealthy Americans to peddle influence in our elections.

Recently Schweitzer was on MSNBC’s “Hardball” with Chris Matthews. Matthews said that, “All this money of running a campaign is down to less than 50 people right now.” Matthews pointed that since January of 2011, 46 people and corporations have contributed $110 million to campaigning.

Schweitzer was frank with Matthews, saying, “In 1977 Congress said the Corrupt Foreign Practices Act made it against the law for American corporations to bribe politicians in other countries. Now they’re saying they can bribe them in the United States.”

Last week, the Washington Post reported that 100 top firms face anti-bribery investigations for practices outside the U.S.

Schweitzer is one of only a handful of recent governors in America not accepting campaign money from political action committees. He won two terms.

Previously, Schweitzer helped pass a successful Montana citizens’ initiative mandating a two-year cooling off period for the revolving door of lawmakers becoming a lobbyist.

In 2007, Schweitzer backed a bill requiring lobbyists to disclose expenditures while the citizen Legislature met in Helena. Republicans – on a straight party line vote – killed the bill that would have required lobbyists to itemize expenses of $5 or more on “wining and dining” legislators with “thick steaks and whiskey.”

Recently, Vice President Joe Biden told the annual conference of the YWCA, “This is not your father’s Republican Party.” Former GOP governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, reinforced the statement in a recent the Los Angeles Times’ op-ed, stating, “It’s time to stop thinking of the Republican Party as an exclusive club where your ideological card is checked at the door…”

The 2011 Montana Legislature was full of fanatics. Lawmakers were too infatuated with a multitude of social bills – like banning federal funding to Planned Parenthood – to cap property taxes for people living in their homes or pass meaningful reform.

Old time Republicans like Bohlinger and Bertelsen remember the reasons to keep corporate and secret money out of our elections. But the new brand of Republican is deeply conflicted.

Democracy works better with one person and one vote, not super-saturated with secret and corporate cash.

Schweitzer sparked a “prairie fire” for reform by signing onto the citizens’ initiative.

The Montanans putting the question of corporate personhood onto the November ballot are signaling a path for Americans to follow. They are saying that corporations are not people.