In a 5-4 decision, the US Supreme Court has struck down (pdf) Montana's 100 year old law that banned direct corporate political campaign spending in state and local elections. The court reversed a lower court ruling, but did so without allowing full briefing or argument in the case.
Previously, the Montana Supreme Court upheld the law due to the state’s dramatic history of corruption, but the Supreme Court's ruling today rejected that decision, arguing that “independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” Critics, however, say all available evidence -- especially in the aftermath of the 2010 Citizens United decision -- suggests such arguments are absurd and say today's decision only strengthens the role of corporate money and independent wealth while weakening the ability of lawmakers and citizens who might try to temper the amount of corporate money that is now flooding into state-level campaigns.
In a dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer -- who was joined by Justice Ruth Ginsburg in a desire that the high court hear the case -- wrote that "Montana's experience, like considerable experience elsewhere since the Court’s decision in Citizens United, casts grave doubts on the Court’s supposition that independent expenditures do not corrupt or appear to do so."
Critics of the ruling were quick to react to the court's decision.
“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.
“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.” -- Justice Steven Breyer
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“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.
US Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), also weighed in, arguing the ruling offered further evidence that the US has become a 'plutocracy'; blasting the court's announcement today and their original ruling in 2010.
"The U.S. Supreme Court's absurd 5-4 ruling two years ago in Citizens United was a major blow to American democratic traditions," said Sanders. "Sadly, despite all of the evidence that Americans see every day, the court continues to believe that its decision makes sense"
"I intend to work as hard as I can for a constitutional amendment to overturn this disastrous Supreme Court decision," he added. To see Sanders' proposed constitutional amendment, click here.
“The 2012 elections make one thing clear: unlimited spending by super PACs and secretive nonprofits is corrupting our political process and threatens to swamp our democracy,” said Adam Skaggs, senior counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “Increasing numbers of Americans believe our government is bought and paid for by special interests and that their votes don’t matter. By not taking this case, the Court missed a critical opportunity to rein in some of the worst excesses of Citizens United, and other rulings, that created this super PAC mess.”
"Citizens and the nation are not going to accept the Supreme Court-imposed campaign finance system that allows our government to be auctioned off to billionaires, millionaires, corporate funders and other special interests using political money to buy influence and results," Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, told the Los Angeles Times. "A major national campaign finance reform movement will begin immediately after the 2012 elections."
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