In late December, the Montana Supreme Court upheld the state's ban on corporate spending in state elections, a ruling that stands in direct opposition to Citizens United, via its decision regarding the case of Western Tradition Partnership v. Attorney General, 2011 MT 328. 

Question Presented:  Does the portion of Montana’s Corrupt Practices Act which prohibits a corporation from making “a contribution or an expenditure in connection with a candidate” survive the United States Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. FEC, 130 S.Ct. 876 (2010)?

Answer: Yes.  The Court upheld the State’s ban on corporate expenditures, reasoning that Montana had a compelling interest to have the law in force.

Chief Justice McGrath wrote the majority opinion which Justices Rice, Cotter, Wheat and Morris joined.  Justices Nelson and Baker dissented.

Majority Opinion

The Court began with history and noted that Montana had a compelling interest in preventing corporate corruption in state politics when it passed the original act in 1912. Chief Justice Mike McGrath wrote about the famed Copper Kings, ”Those tumultuous years were marked by rough contests for political and economic domination primarily in the mining center of Butte between mining and industrial enterprises controlled by foreign trusts or corporation.”  The Court decided that Montana would be particularly affected by the entrance of corporate dollars which would overpower donations made by individual Montanans.

With these compelling interests in mind, the Court framed the dispositive questions as “When in the last 99 years did Montana lose the power or interest sufficient to support the statute, if it ever did?”  The Court concluded that the State of Montana still had a compelling interest to prohibit corporate expenditures.:

    Issues of corporate influence, sparse population, dependence upon agriculture and  extractive  resource  development, location  as  a  transportation  corridor,  and  low campaign  costs  make Montana  especially vulnerable  to  continued efforts  of  corporate control to the detriment of democracy and the republican form of government.

Whether additional states will challenge Citizens United at the local level remains to be seen. But with Montana exhibiting the legal rationale for going over Citizen United's head (in claiming it only applies to federal elections), it's likely that other states, even those without existing local bans, will follow suit.

Let's hope that what has occurred in Montana leads to the ultimate reversal of Citizens United and the ending of Corporate Personhood which gave corporations the same rights to free speech as living, breathing, individual human beings.  As has been said before, I will believe a corporation is a person when it can be imprisoned or subject to the death penalty-- just as can any living, breathing, individual who has committed a crime against humanity. With equal rights, should come equal responsibility and equal consequences, and that is simply not possible when it comes to treating corporations as persons.