In a ruling on Friday, December 30th, the Montana Supreme Court issued a rebuke against Citizens United that leaves most “human persons” loudly cheering. Citizens United refers to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2010 wherein the activist Roberts’ Court decreed corporations had constitutional rights to directly spend money on ‘independent expenditures’ in campaigns. That ruling effectively codified a doctrine of “corporate personhood.”
The 80-page Montana ruling against a suit brought by Western Tradition Partnership attacked the thinking behind the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, the impact of big money in political culture, and the premise that corporations deserve the same political speech rights as citizens.
The Montana Court’s ruling asserted that the Citizens United decision did not remove all bans on corporate speech. “The Supreme Court held that laws that burden political speech are subject to strict scrutiny, which requires the government to prove that the law furthers a compelling state interest and is narrowly tailored to that interest,” the court said. The ruling details the history of 1912 state law banning direct corporate spending on electoral campaigns and provides explanations of sufficiently compelling state interests to merit sustaining the century-old law.
“Organizations like WTP that act as a conduit for anonymously spending by others represent a threat to the political marketplace,” wrote Mike McGrath, Chief Justice of the Montana Supreme Court, for the majority. “Clearly the impact of unlimited corporate donations creates a dominating impact on the political process and inevitably minimizes the impact of individual citizens.”
Steven Rosenfeld, in reporting on the ruling, stated “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 accountability for any political fund-raising or spending.”
The court noted that Western Tradition Partnership’s lawyers claimed that it should be allowed to spend freely because the group would have to disclose that activity under Montana law when the same group, using another name, actually had sued the state to overturn those very disclosure laws. WTP is also involved in a third suit challenging the state’s campaign spending disclosure law.
Rosenfeld’s description of Western Tradition Partnership (now known as American Tradition Partnership) as a political organization that is “as slippery an organization as one finds in modern politics” leaves no doubt about its ethics and modus operandi and is solidly supported by its history, practices and assertions.
Western Tradition Partnership sued to overturn the 1912 Montana Corrupt Practices Act, an irony not lost on those who have experienced the corrupt political practices of the organization up close and personal. WTP first surfaced in Longmont, Colorado, when it frivolously sued the city over its Fair Campaign Practices Act, represented by Scott Gessler, now Colorado’s Secretary of State. In Longmont’s 2009 election, WTP was responsible for abhorrent political practices that it had debuted in Montana and for which it was held responsible by the Montana Political Practices Commission. WTP returned again in the 2011 election to once again elect council members who would advance their agenda.
The Montana Supreme Court’s ruling quoted a fund-raising brochure that said, “If you decide to support this program, no politician, no bureaucrat, and no radical environmentalist will ever know you made this program possible.” A visit to its website will reveal the hatred for all things environmental (“Gang Green”) and the absolutism in the advancement of extraction industry property rights. The organization’s Executive Director and website writer Donald aka Donny Ferguson has never met a lie he didn’t love. If the only information you had available was that which is presented on www.americantradition.org, you would have perceptions that have no bearing whatsoever on reality.
“We take note that Western Tradition appears to be engaged in a multi-front attack on both contribution restrictions and the transparency that accompanies campaign disclosure requirements,” the Court said. Its previous attorney of record, Gessler, is now engaged in a multi-front attack on contribution restrictions and transparency from his position as Colorado’s Secretary of State.
The court added in a footnote that the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices called the group a “sham” because it failed to register with the state, and refused to disclose the sources of its funds or its spending—as required by law.
Even the dissenting opinion lambasted the Citizens United ruling notwithstanding its contention that the Montana Court was bound by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling.
Justice James C. Nelson wrote, “And, to be absolutely clear, I do not agree with it [Citizens United]. 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.”
“In the real world of politics,” he wrote, “the “quid pro quo” of both direct contributions to candidates and independent expenditures on their behalf is loyalty. And, in practical effect, experience teaches us that money corrupts, and enough of it corrupts absolutely.”
In assaulting the very notion of corporate personhood, Nelson stated, “I find the concept entirely offensive. Corporations are artificial creatures of law. As such, they should enjoy only those powers—not constitutional rights, but legislatively-conferred powers—that are concomitant with their legitimate function, that being limited liability investment vehicles for business. Corporations are not persons. 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 creations of government. Worse still, 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.”
American Tradition Partnership says that it is a “no-compromise” organization. And for once it has told the truth. It is likely to appeal this ruling all the way back to the U.S. Supreme Court. We can only hope that if that happens, the Supreme Court will have second thoughts about their disastrous ruling in Citizens United.