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January 1, 2012 | Montana’s Supreme Court has issued a stunning rebuke to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 that infamously decreed corporations had constitutional rights to directly spend money on ‘independent expenditures’ in campaigns.
The Montana Court vigorously upheld the state’s right to regulate how corporations can raise and spend money after a secretive Colorado corporation, Western Tradition Partnership, and a Montana sportsman’s group and local businessman sued to overturn a 1912 state law banning direct corporate spending on electoral campaigns.
“While, as a member of this Court, I am bound to follow Citizens United, I do not have to agree with the [U.S.] Supreme Court’s decision,” wrote Justice James C. Nelson, in his dissent. “And, to be absolutely clear, I do not agree with it. For starters, the notion that corporations are disadvantaged in the political realm is unbelievable. Indeed, it has astounded most Americans. The truth is that corporations wield enormous power in Congress and in state legislatures. It is hard to tell where government ends and corporate America begins: the transition is seamless and overlapping.”
The lead group that sued to overturn the Montana ban on direct corporate spending in campaigns followed a very deliberate course of clashing with virtually every aspect of Montana campaign finance law. The lawyers behind the litigation believe that they should face no limits or accountabililty for any political fund-raising or spending.
The Montana Supreme Court’s majority opinion described why Western Tradition Partnership was as slippery an organization as one finds in modern politics. They noted how the groups lawyers claimed that they should be allowed to spend freely because the group would have to disclose that activity under Montana law, when as the state’s Chief Justice noted in his opinion, the same group, using another name, actually had sued the state to overturn those very disclosure laws.
one of the two dissents, Justice James C. Nelson, unloaded on that Supreme Court decision with Scalia-like levels of derision and scorn. “Corporations are not persons,” writes Nelson. “Human beings are persons, and it is an affront to the inviolable dignity of our species that courts have created a legal fiction which forces people—human beings—to share fundamental, natural rights with soulless creatures of government." Just in case that wasn’t crystal clear, Nelson goes on to add that “while corporations and human beings share many of the same rights under the law, they clearly are not bound equally to the same codes of good conduct, decency, and morality, and they are not held equally accountable for their sins. Indeed, it is truly ironic that the death penalty and hell are reserved only to natural persons."