Montana’s highest court affirmed the legality of its century-old ban on corporate political expenditures in a Dec. 30 ruling that represents a challenge to the horrendous Citizens United by the United States Supreme Court, which equated corporations with people.
The ruling in Western Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. State of Montana may also represent the beginning of the end for a budding corporate oligarchy that has disenfranchised middle class voters, allowed influential industries to raid the federal treasury, and morphed American government into the kind of pay-to-play system of political patronage not seen in this nation since the end of the 19th Century. It comes less than four months after the birth of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has rallied the 99 Percent against the corporate exploiters of the ruling 1%
“This is a huge victory for democracy,”said John Bonifaz, director of Free Speech For People, a national campaign to reverse the Citizens United ruling in January 2010. “With this ruling, the Montana Supreme Court now sets up the first test case for the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit its Citizens United decision, [which] poses a direct and serious threat to our democracy. The Montana state supreme court justices have just provided a New Year’s gift to the nation.”
The 5-2 ruling upheld Montana’s Corrupt Practices Act in a case involving a shadowy Super PAC with close ties to the Republican political machine, after the nation’s highest court spit the bit and gave corporations political speech rights in Citizens United. The Montana ruling sets up the first direct challenge to the federal decision, which removed a longstanding bar to corporate expenditures in federal elections and cleared the way for the corporate oligarchy to spend unlimited amounts of money to anonymously influence elections.
The decision has opened the floodgates for a 2012 election cycle that is now expected to generate more than $7 billion in donations, much of which will be spent on political advertising with the very news organizations entrusted with scrutinizing the two major political machines. Ion Network illustrated one of the hazards created by this windfall when it organized a political advertising team just two days before announcing that it planned to host a Republican presidential debate moderated by Reality TV Star Donald Trump, which would have further blurred the lines between journalism and entertainment.
Citizens United is the latest step in the effort by the 1 Percent to transform the United States from a democracy into a corporate oligarchy in which the truth is for sale and the 99 Percent are relegated to second-class status.
The two political machines, which have both been bought and purchased by the 1 Percent, already allow wealthy donors to engage in legalized bribery. They’re encouraged to circumvent the $2,500 limits on political donations to individual candidates via unlimited “soft-money” donations to the political parties. The Citizens United ruling allows unlimited anonymous donations to be made to so-called Super-PACs like Western Tradition Partnership, making the true power in American politics even less visible to citizens.
The Super-PACs make a mockery of the federal tax code. They’re allowed to avoid paying taxes by incorporating as social welfare nonprofits under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(4), but many actually exist to erode our nation’s social safety net in order to allow the wealthy to avoid paying their fair share for it.
“The Citizens United decision dealt with federal laws and elections — like those contests for president and congress,” Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock told the Associated Press. “But the vast majority of elections are held at the state or local level and this is the first case I am aware of that examines state laws and elections.”
Montana Chief Justice Mike McGrath indicated the 1912 statute was established to prevent Montana’s state government from being hijacked by powerful corporate interests, which placed profits ahead of the greater good. It was passed at a time when the state government was a mere shell of legal authority, he said, and Montana’s real social and political power was wielded by powerful corporate managers.
McGrath (right) indicated that Montana needs to protect its statutory ban on corporate political expenditures in the face of similar challenges today.
“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,” McGrath wrote in the majority opinion in Western Tradition. “The question then, is when in the last 99 years did Montana lose the power or interest sufficient to support the statute, if it ever did.”
The Montana ruling was a high-profile victory for Bullock (below left), who personally defended the state ban and is now running for governor. It serves as a road map for politicians seeking a quick route to higher elected office.
A federal appeal of the Western Tradition ruling is likely to yield a favorable outcome, but not before the 2012 election cycle is over. The Citizens United ruling, which is likely to be invalidated by new federal legislation after the 2012 federal election, is fated to a similar outcome.
The Montana ruling may serve as a model for emulation by other state governments seeking to place the interests of their citizens ahead of the insatiable quest for profit growth now being championed by anti-American organizations. Like The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Western Tradition Partnership, which serve as fronts for the corporate oligarchy and wield tremendous influence among morally bankrupt state and federal lawmakers.
The group that challenged the Montana statute is typical of the Super PACs which exist to mislead middle-class voters into supporting policies that go against their own interests and support the modern corporate oligarchy by boosting corporate profits, and to ensure that only those who chase bricks of corporate cash are able to win elected office. The American Tradition Partnership, also known as the Western Tradition Partnership, claims to be a grassroots group opposed to environmental safeguards that impact business, but actually is closely aligned with business interests and the Republican Party.
Western Tradition Partnership attacked Montana legislative candidates with mailed material prior to the case. Montana State Commissioner for Political Practices Dennis Unsworth told The Missoulian the group planned to spend $537,000 on Montana elections in 2010 and was involved in 19 Montana legislative races in 2008.
Western Tradition Partnership was formed in Denver in 2008. As a 501(c)(4) organization it neither has to divulge its donors nor pay taxes like the rest of us. That enables other nations to make contributions to these groups to support policies in DC that favor outside national interests over those of the U.S.
According to Unsworth, Western Tradition’s presentation to donors boasts that “there’s no limit to how much you can give” and no one “will ever know you helped make this program possible.”
Bonifaz, director of Free Speech For People, indicated the ruling is a big win for those seeking to defend American democracy by upending the Citizens United ruling, which received support from several conflicted supreme court justice with their own questionable connections to the corporate oligarchy.
“Montana’s ban on corporate spending should be applauded as a national model,” said David Levine, executive director of the American Sustainable Business Council. “All businesses must ask ourselves: Are our goals furthered by pay-to-play elections where precious capital is diverted to politics, or should we focus on our business and the benefits that we bring to the local and national economy.”
The American Sustainable Business Council represents a national network of more than 70,000 businesses.