by Jeremy Leaming
In light of the hundreds of millions that “super PACs” are funneling into the forthcoming general election, as well as the waves of dollars that swamped the 2010 elections, it’s time for the U.S. Supreme Court to rethink its Citizens United v. FEC opinion.
At least that is part of the argument that a coalition, including two national business networks and a Montana corporation, makes in a friend-of-the-court brief recently lodged with the U.S. Supreme Court.
The vehicle for revisiting the controversial 2010 opinion, in which the Court’s right-wing banded together to push aside decades of precedent favoring the regulation of corporate financing of elections is the Montana Supreme Court’s ruling late last year upholding the state’s 1912 Corrupt Practices Act, and in the process providing a striking rebuke to the high court’s holding in Citizens United.
Chief Justice Mike McGarth writing for the majority in Western Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. State of Montana said the high court’s Citizens United opinion did not preclude Montana from enforcing the Corrupt Practices Act. Today, the chief justice said, the state still had serious concerns about “corporate influence, sparse population, dependence upon agriculture and extractive resource development, location as a transportation corridor, and low campaign costs to make Montana especially vulnerable to continued efforts to corporate control to the detriment of democracy and the republican form of government.”
One of the dissenters in the Montana case, Justice James C. Nelson called the concept of corporate personhood, integral to the Citizens United, “offensive.” Nelson continued, “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.”
The 28-page brief shows in striking detail just how off the Supreme Court’s majority was when it declared in Citizens United “that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”
The brief’s author, Ben Clements, a board member of Free Speech for People, also a part of the coalition, in a press statement, said, “By granting corporations right to spend unlimited corporate funds on elections, at the expense of the people’s right to prevent the resulting corruption and distortion of our electoral process, the Citizens United ruling undermines First Amendment values and integrity of our republican democracy itself.”