High court’s flip dismissal of Montana ban on corporate political spending shows need for fast citizen action on constitutional amendment

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  • Dale Eisman

Common Cause calls on voters to “Stand with Montanans” and join a populist rebellion to overturn Citizens United

By summarily rejecting Montana’s law banning corporate political spending, the Supreme Court has turned a blind eye to political corruption and the tsunami of special interest money flooding into this year’s national elections, Common Cause said today.

“The Court’s arrogant move – refusing to even grant a hearing on a Montana law that has served the state well for a century – underscores the need for quick action on a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and allow sensible restrictions on political spending,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar.

“The Court’s majority has once again chosen ideology over common sense and left American voters defenseless against the forced sale of our elections to big corporations and billionaires,” Edgar added.

The fight to save democracy now moves to the ballot box, with Montana on the front lines of a national populist rebellion. Common Cause and Free Speech for People have teamed up to launch “Stand With Montanans,” a campaign for a ballot initiative that would let Montana voters instruct their members of Congress to support and vote for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, establish that corporations are not people, and authorize limits on political spending.

Similar “voter instruction” efforts are underway in Colorado, Salt Lake City, Massachusetts and other cities across the country. The campaign comes on the heels of passage of similar measures by four states and 288 cities and towns calling on Congress to pass a constitutional amendment.

“Putting Citizens United on the ballot in battleground states this fall gives voters a powerful way to make their voices heard now and puts presidential and congressional candidates on notice that Americans are fed up with Supreme Court rulings that have turned our elections into auctions,” Edgar said.

Common Cause had hoped that a majority on the high court would grant a full hearing on the Montana law banning corporate political spending and a Montana Supreme Court decision upholding that law. Instead, the justices in a 5-4 vote refused to even set the case for argument, simply rubber-stamping their ruling in Citizens United without considering the facts about the impact of unlimited corporate spending on corruption and the ability of Americans to make their voices heard.

“Thanks to the Roberts Court, this year’s campaigns for offices from the courthouse to the White House will be driven by hundreds of millions of dollars in negative political ads, financed by Super PACs and other supposedly ‘independent’ donors whose identities will remain mostly shielded from the voters,” Edgar said. “But the winning candidates likely will know exactly where that money came from, and the people and companies providing it will come calling for legislation, government contracts and all manner of other favors in payment for their support.”

In his dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer agreed. “Thus, Montana’s experience, like considerable experience elsewhere since the Court’s decision in Citizens United, casts grave doubt on the Court’s supposition that independent expenditures do not corrupt or appear to do so,” Breyer wrote.

Common Cause was among 14 national organizations that joined in a “friend of the court” brief filed by the Campaign Legal Center urging the justices to uphold the Montana law and reverse Citizens United.

Edgar said today’s action strengthens the case that Common Cause and other organizations are making that, given the Court’s current rigid stance, a constitutional amendment is needed to authorize campaign spending limits and declare that corporations do not enjoy the same rights as people when it comes to spending money in politics.

Legislatures in four states – Hawaii, Vermont, New Mexico and Rhode Island – have passed resolutions supporting an amendment and the corporate political spending restrictions it would permit. Massachusetts and California are also considering it. In Montana, a campaign called “Stand with Montanans” is circulating petitions to put a measure on the November ballot that would allow that state’s voters to instruct their representatives in Congress to support an amendment.

Common Cause has launched a national effort, Amend 2012, to encourage other states and localities to send similar instructions to their representatives. Voter instructions have been used repeatedly in American history to spur changes in the Constitution.