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Citizens United 2: Electric Bugaloo

In the most predictable ruling ever, the SCOTUS on Monday overturned a ruling from the Montana Supreme Court that upheld that state’s campaign finance laws, which were pretty clearly in conflict with the Citizens United ruling. It was so predictable that the five justices in the majority — the same ones in the majority in Citizens United — didn’t even bother explaining themselves, just issued a per curiam decision noting their decision.

A Montana state law provides that a “corporation may not make . . . an expenditure in connection with a candidate or a political committee that supports or opposes a candidate or a political party….” The Montana Supreme Court rejected petitioners’ claim that this statute violates the First Amendment…. In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, this Court struck down a similar federal law, holding that “political speech does not lose First Amendment protection simply because its source is a corporation….” The question presented in this case is whether the holding of Citizens United applies to the Montana state law. There can be no serious doubt that it does. See U. S. Const., Art. VI, cl. 2. Montana’s arguments in support of the judgment below either were already rejected in Citizens United, or fail to meaningfully distinguish that case.

The four liberal members of the court, who had all opposed the Citizens United ruling, did offer a longer dissent arguing that that ruling should be overturned. But if they don’t do that, there was no way that the Montana court’s ruling was going to stand. And there was no way the same justices were going to reverse themselves so soon. No one can be surprised by this ruling at all.

Comments

  1. Gregory in Seattle says

    And democracy gasps, and dies a little more.

    I am curious, though: if corporations can make unlimited campaign contributions, doesn’t that mean individuals can, too? If corporations are people (according to legal precedent), and the law applies equally to all people (according to legal theory), then haven’t ALL campaign limits been overturned?

  2. baal says

    The current SCOTUS is derisible.

    “There can be no serious doubt”

    Other than the otherwise conservative State of Montana with a noticeably conservative State SCT ruling the other way based on the facts and law of that State…I’m sure they were frivolous.

  3. netamigo says

    I’m with Gregory. I have the impression that individuals have more limited rights than corporations under this ruling. Of course, corporations are nothing more than an extension of individuals. But it is mostly the rich who operate through corporations and trusts as it is expensive as well as somewhat complicated to use them. As Obama said in his state of the union, the Supreme Court overturned about a century of jurisprudence with the Citizens United ruling. We are in deep trouble if Romney gets in and appoints more of these extreme right-wing judges.

  4. Michael Heath says

    Ed,

    When the United ruling was released I recall your claiming this ruling wouldn’t have much of an impact on the dynamics of our election process. Do you remain comfortable with your prediction, wavering, or think otherwise now?

  5. Mr Ed says

    I like the idea that this money is not corrupting so it is fine and dandy. So wealthy individuals and corporations with specific interest can invest money in PACs to make sure that they get the regulators they need. When I hear politicians promising to role back regulations, sorry I mean Job Killing Regulations™, I wounder have the been bought already.

    It’s OK I’m voting for Mari O. Nette this year.

  6. d cwilson says

    I am curious, though: if corporations can make unlimited campaign contributions, doesn’t that mean individuals can, too?

    Sure. Just look at Sheldon Adelson and the rest of the billionaires who are cutting multi-million dollar checks for republicans.

    Thing is, if money = speech, then the wealthy will always have more speech than the rest of us. But hey, now that the unions are all but broken and there’s nothing comparable representing the working class, I’m sure our sacred job creators will letting some of that wealthy trickle down to us. Just as soon as they get another tax cut.

    It’s OK I’m voting for Mari O. Nette this year.

    Mitt Romney’s future SCOTUS nominees thank you.

  7. Michael Heath says

    baal writes:

    Other than the otherwise conservative State of Montana with a noticeably conservative State SCT ruling the other way based on the facts and law of that State…I’m sure they were frivolous.

    Montana’s law is more than 100 years old. I’m confident their modern-day conservatives would obstruct any initiative to control corporate speech if there was no United precedent created by a conservative court. I qualify my position because conservative Montanans might be chagrined by a federal court restricting their state’s power.

  8. Jordan Genso says

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26315908/#47956019

    Rachel Maddow did a good job covering this issue last night.

    Not only are corporations given the freedom to spend whatever they want, the conservatives on the Supreme Court are trying to make sure unions can’t (around 9:15 in the video). The court is placing restricitions on the unions’ campaign spending, requiring they get approval from their members before spending.

    The comparison she then mentions is that Walmart can spend however much it wants without getting shareholder approval, but if a union wanted to counter Walmart’s propoganda, they would need to get a majority of it’s members to agree to it.

    Please vote for President Obama, so we have at least some chance of getting a better Supreme Court.

  9. Michael Heath says

    Jordan Genso:

    The comparison [Rachel Maddow] then mentions is that Walmart [or any corporation who can spend money on political advocacy in the U.S.] can spend however much it wants without getting shareholder approval, but if a union wanted to counter Walmart’s propoganda, they would need to get a majority of it’s members to agree to it.

    This explains The Daily Kos‘s recent email blast attempting to get people to sign a petition directed at Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid to introduce a bill requiring corporations get shareholder approval prior to engaging in political advocacy.

  10. baal says

    Probably true Michael but the SCOTUS’s contention is that it’s was not possible to consider the 100 year old law valid. There is every reason to think the courts in MT did their job with all seriousness and diligence. That fact stands in contrast to the orbiter dicta dismissal of the State’s position.

  11. gingerbaker says

    Ed said: “No one can be surprised by this ruling at all.”

    I can tell you a few people who would be surprised:

    Thomas Jefferson and James Madison for two.

    Prior to 1886, corporate “speech” to influence politics was a felony in most states prior to 1886.

    From:

    ” The Railroad Barons Are Back – And This Time They’ll Finish the Job: by Thom Hartmann”:

    “…Rights were the sole province of humans.

    As the father of the Constitution, President James Madison, wrote, “There is an evil which ought to be guarded against in the indefinite accumulation of property from the capacity of holding it in perpetuity by… corporations. The power of all corporations ought to be limited in this respect. The growing wealth acquired by them never fails to be a source of abuses.”

    It’s one of the reasons why the word “corporation” doesn’t exist in the constitution – they were to be chartered only by states, so local people could keep a close eye on them.

    Early state laws (and, later, federal anti-trust laws) forbade corporations from owning other corporations, particularly in the media. In 1806, President Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”

    He was so strongly opposed to corporations owning other corporations or gaining monopolies of the media that, when the Constitution was submitted for ratification, he and Madison proposed an 11th Amendment to the Constitution that would “ban commercial monopolies.” The Convention shot it down as unnecessary because state laws against corporate monopolies already existed. “

  12. Jordan Genso says

    From Michael Heath

    This explains The Daily Kos‘s recent email blast attempting to get people to sign a petition directed at Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid to introduce a bill requiring corporations get shareholder approval prior to engaging in political advocacy.

    lol. If that passed, I think coverage of shareholder meetings would become much more mainstream.

    There’s obviously no chance of that actually getting past the Tea Party Republican obstructionism, and I doubt Sen. Reid will introduce it, as there may be some Democratic Senators uncomfortable supporting it*. It would be great if he did though.

    *hopefully I’m wrong on that last point

  13. emc2 says

    The way I see the argument going is that owning stock is voluntary, so if you do not approve of the actions of a company you own stock in, just sell the stock. There are many jobs out there that require membership into a Union and they don’t have the option of just quitting the union that makes political actions they do not approve of.

  14. Jordan Genso says

    @emc2

    Why can’t your argument be used in refernce to unions?

    “The way I see the argument going is that working a specific job is voluntary, so if you do not approve of the actions of a union you belong to, just find another (non-union) job.”

    Personally, the best analogy to unions that I’ve come up with is home owners’ associations:
    When an identifiable group of people that share some basic part of life come together and decide democratically that they are going to work as a whole for the benefit of all members. In return, certain restrictions/requirements will be placed on the members, including mandatory dues payments.

    That’s why when people advocate for the misnamed “right to work” legislation, I ask them if HOAs should also lose their ability to require dues from their members.

  15. says

    Gregory in Seattle wrote:

    I am curious, though: if corporations can make unlimited campaign contributions, doesn’t that mean individuals can, too? If corporations are people (according to legal precedent), and the law applies equally to all people (according to legal theory), then haven’t ALL campaign limits been overturned?

    You’re conflating contribution limits with the ability to spend money on third party advertising. The limits on how much an individual or corporation can donate to a candidate were upheld by the Supreme Court. What Citizens United did was allow corporations to spend money directly out of their general fund to purchase ads endorsing a candidate. They already could do that before but they had to launder the money through a third party organization first, which is what they have largely continued to do (I’ll explain this more below).

    Michael Heath wrote:

    When the United ruling was released I recall your claiming this ruling wouldn’t have much of an impact on the dynamics of our election process. Do you remain comfortable with your prediction, wavering, or think otherwise now?

    I’m told by campaign finance experts that the real damage came from the Speech Now appeals court ruling, which came after Citizens United. That is what really unleashed the Super PACs. The primary holding of Citizens United, allowing corporations to spend general fund money to endorse candidates, has changed very little. They could already do that as long as they gave the money to a third-party group (PAC or 527), which is still the way they prefer to do it. That’s why you don’t see ads for or against a candidate that end with “Dow Chemical paid for this ad” or “Koch Industries paid for this ad.” What you do see is “Americans for Clean Water and Cute Puppies paid for this ad.” The reasons should be obvious.

  16. emc2 says

    Jordan Genso,

    What I meant was that this is the type of arguement you may see from people who want to justify requiring a Union vote but not a stockholder vote for company actions.

  17. Jordan Genso says

    @emc2

    Sorry. I misunderstood your post. I agree that is what some people will argue.

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