DOJ: News Release

Bullock Takes Fight Against Corporate Influence in Montana Elections to U.S. Supreme Court

Bullock Takes Fight Against Corporate Influence in Montana Elections to U.S. Supreme Court

Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock continues to lead the fight against outside corporate influence in Montana elections, and is once again standing up for transparency and integrity in the state’s political process.

Bullock filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing to uphold a Montana Supreme Court decision that validated the state’s 1912 voter-approved Corrupt Practices Act, which bans direct corporate contributions to state political candidates. In the brief, filed Friday, Bullock urges the High Court to assess Montana’s arguments on the merits of the case rather than summarily reject them in the face of a challenge to the law by conservative, Virginia-based American Tradition Partnership. ATP has asked the court to take the bold step of throwing out the Montana law without even allowing briefing or an oral argument.

“Nearly 100 years ago the voters of Montana, appalled by the corruption of our political process and the realization that a seat in the U.S. Senate was sold to the highest bidder, banned corporations from spending money from their corporate coffers to influence elections,” Bullock said. “It’s a law that has served Montana well for a century, and I’m proud to continue standing up for it.

“Allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts of shareholder money from the corporate treasury – rather than from the individual bank accounts of that corporation’s officers and key employees – is bad for our democracy, bad for the integrity of our elections and contrary to common-sense,” Bullock added.

In the 39-page brief, Bullock says a summary reversal lacks basis and would do little to address the disputes that American Tradition Partnership raises about the Montana Supreme Court’s application of Citizens United in state, local and judicial elections.

“Even under the broadest reading of Citizens United, this case presents an opportunity for the Supreme Court to clarify its application,” Bullock said. “The Corrupt Practices Act is narrowly tailored to Montana’s interests. Our state Supreme Court correctly applied its ruling in a way that satisfies constitutional scrutiny.”

ATP sued in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling in an attempt to overturn Montana’s century-old ban on direct corporate contributions to candidates for political office. A state District Court ruled the ban was unconstitutional, but Bullock appealed that decision and personally argued it before the Montana Supreme Court in September. On Dec. 30, 2011, the state Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s decision, thus upholding the 1912 law. ATP appealed that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Twenty-four states regulated corporate contributions in elections prior to Citizens United; Bullock is the only state attorney general who has continued to defend his state’s campaign finance laws since.

This time around, New York filed an amicus brief with the support of 21 other states and the District of Columbia. So, too, did a group of U.S. senators, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. McCain is a leading Republican proponent of campaign spending regulations. Citizens United negated portions of the McCain-Feingold Act, which restricted certain campaign contributions leading up to an election.

“Groups like ATP would like to turn back the clock to the ‘Copper King’ days when seats for public office were up for sale to the highest bidder,” Bullock said. “Montana, and the rest of America, doesn’t need that corrupting influence in our democracy.”

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