For over a century, Montana has prohibited corporate political spending. However, the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision allowed unlimited corporate spending in elections on the basis that it does “not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” After the ruling, at least nine of the 24 states with campaign laws threatened by Citizens United either repealed or suspended them.
Bolstered by the Citizens decision, three corporations filed suit last year to overturn Montana’s 1912 Corrupt Practices Act, passed by voter referendum.
So far, the Act has been upheld by the Montana Supreme Court based on “an extraordinary history of political corruption by out-of-state foreign corporations and interests in the years leading up to the aptly-named Act, maintaining an extraordinarily accessible government in a sparsely populated state, and preserving citizens’ control of and confidence in an elected judiciary.”
Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock further argues that the Act “imposes far different obligations, and therefore affects corporate speech in a far different manner, than the federal law at issue in Citizens United.” To many, it seems unlikely that the Supreme Court will accept Montana’s argument, but whatever the outcome, it will surely shape this year’s election cycle.