The US Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. FEC is facing its first direct challenge in the courts. A coalition that includes two national business networks and local Montana businesses recently joined the State of Montana in defense of its century-old ban on corporate money in elections. Montana’s Corrupt Practices Act, which goes back to 1912, is under legal attack following the Supreme Court’s January 2010 decision in Citizens United, which equated corporations with people under the First Amendment and swept away longstanding precedent that had barred corporate expenditures in federal elections.
Led by Free Speech For People, a national campaign to overturn the Citizens United ruling, the coalition filed a friend-of-the-court brief on April 29, 2011, before the Montana Supreme Court in the case of Western Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. State of Montana. In October 2010, a state judge hearing the case in Helena, Montana, struck down Montana’s Corrupt Practices Act, applying the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock has appealed that judge’s opinion to the state’s highest court.
“The 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission,” the coalition’s brief states, “was an extreme extension of an erroneous corporate rights doctrine that has eroded the First Amendment and the Constitution for the past 30 years.” “A corporate pay-to-play, ‘crony capitalism’ vision of elections,” the brief continues, “is contrary not only to our republican principles of government, but also to American principles of free and fair commerce among free people and the States.”
The coalition’s brief argues that the Montana Supreme Court should uphold Montana’s Corrupt Practices Act, at least until the US Supreme Court decides whether to extend the corporate rights doctrine of Citizens United to the States.
In addition to Free Speech For People, other signatories to the brief include the American Sustainable Business Council, representing a network of more than 70,000 businesses across the country; the American Independent Business Alliance, based in Bozeman, Montana; Mike’s Thriftway, a supermarket business in Chester, Montana; and Home Resource Center, Inc., a non-profit Montana corporation operating a building materials and re-use center in Missoula, Montana.
Jeff Clements, the co-founder and general counsel for Free Speech For People and the author of the coalition’s brief, said in a statement issued on the day of the filing last month: “Corporations are not people. The Framers understood that. The First Amendment and the Constitution is for people. We are proud to stand today with the State of Montana to vindicate the Framers’ intent and to defend our democracy.”
Launched on the day of the Citizens United ruling, Free Speech For People is a national non-partisan campaign challenging the fabrication of corporate rights under the US Constitution and pressing for a constitutional amendment to ensure that people, not corporations, govern in America.
Join us in restoring democracy to the people.