Supreme Court summarily reverses Montana’s Citizens United case
a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court on Monday reaffirmed a landmark 2010 ruling
that allows corporations to make unlimited political expenditures,
reversing a Montana Supreme Court ruling from December without hearing
The summary reversal of American Tradition
Partnership v. Bullock, which directly rebutted the Citizens United v.
Federal Election Commission decision, indicates the Supreme Court will
stand by its view of corporations as people. It also clarified that the
2010 rules apply on the state level.
presented in this case is whether the holding of Citizens United applies
to the Montana state law,” the court’s per curiam stated. “There can be
no serious doubt that it does.”
Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan’s dissenting opinion
emphasized that independent expenditures can be corrupting. The dissenters
added that they would have heard the court case “were the matter up to” them.
if I were to accept Citizens United, this court’s legal conclusion
should not bar the Montana Supreme Court’s finding, made on the record
before it, that independent expenditures by corporations did in fact
lead to corruption or the appearance of corruption in Montana,” Breyer,
who led the opinion, wrote.
The Montana court also disagreed in December that independent expenditures were not corrupting.
and the public will become mere bystanders in elections” if these
expenditures are allowed, Justice James Nelson wrote on behalf of the
court, citing the state’s Corrupt Practices Act of 1912 as reason for
But the Supreme Court’s finding makes clear that
states need to comply with its 2010 ruling over previous state law,
Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer said.
makes clear that the Citizens United decision applies to state laws as
well as federal laws, but it is not an unexpected development by the
campaign finance reform community,” Wertheimer told The Hill.
2010 Supreme Court decision to allow corporations to make unlimited
political expenditures on the basis of freedom of speech led to the
creation of super-PACs, committees that can raise and
spend unlimited money for political expenditures as long as they do not
donate to or coordinate with campaigns.
The combination of
spending by hundreds of super-PACs, parties and other outside spending
groups has led to more than $163 million of spending in the 2012 cycle
so far, according to Open Secrets.
The alleged misuse of the
501(c)(4) social welfare organization title, among other issues, has led
to minimal disclosure, too. There has been at least $12 million in
undisclosed spending as of Monday, according to The Sunlight Foundation.
Several lawmakers responded to the court’s decision Monday.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reiterated his support for
Citizens United, adding, “Clearly, the much-predicted corporate tsunami
that critics of Citizens United warned about simply did not occur.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) took her disagreement to Twitter, saying her solution to the “terrible decision would be ‘Disclose, Amend, Reform, Elect.’ ”
Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the House sponsor of Disclose Act 2.0 for
more stringent disclosure requirements, called the ruling “the wrong
decision for America.”
Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse
(D-R.I.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), two of the senators on the Democratic
coalition working to pass a bill requiring additional donor disclosure,
released statements scolding the court. Schumer scorned the Supreme
Court’s “anything-goes interpretation of the First Amendment” of
corporations’ right to freedom of speech.
“[The ruling] appears
to be yet another demonstration of the politicization of the court by
the right-wing justices,” Whitehouse said in a statement.
groups chimed in on the ruling as well. Watchdogs from the Campaign Legal
Center to Public Campaign warned of the corruption being allowed through
the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“If their original decision could
be discounted as astoundingly naïve, this rejection of Montana’s
anticorruption laws is a crass attempt to rig the political system to
protect the powerful and lock in partisan political gains,” Center for
American Progress Action Fund President and former Rep. Tom
Perriello (D-Va.) said in a statement.
Center for Competitive Politics founder Brad Smith said the decision “is correct, both empirically and as a matter of law.”
The divide over Citizens United has been largely partisan, with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) crossing lines to author an amicus brief with Whitehouse in May. The brief urged the Supreme Court not to
consider the case, but to let the Montana court’s ruling stand.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce submitted a brief prior to the ruling supporting corporate expenditures.
the decision solidifies that the ruling applies to states, former Federal Election Commission (FEC) Chairman and Commissioner Dave Mason told The Hill most states already
have adapted their rules to comply.
Many have already implemented
regulations to conform with Citizens United, said Mason, currently a
senior vice president at the data-mining and compliance company
Aristotle. The impact has been felt in gubernatorial and, to a
lesser extent, state legislator races, he explained.
was the only state out of 50 that didn’t acknowledge the Citizens United
decision,” Mason said. “[This ruling] removes any illusion that the
Supreme Court jurisprudence is going to change anytime soon.”
Supreme Court’s decision to stand by its 2010 ruling limits watchdogs
and opposition recourse options. Democrats are sure to push for passage
of one of the two Disclose Acts currently introduced.
Both chambers’ versions of the Disclose 2.0 Act
are intended to put additional disclosure requirements for
contributions in place. Neither version is expected to pass Congress,
due to the Republican majority in the House.
The ruling could push the FEC, which has been deadlocked along party lines since the
2010 landmark decision, to put Citizens United into effect through
In a meeting
on the proposed regulations that experts have called a “housekeeping
measure,” Commissioner Steven Walther asked panelists if it would be
“responsible … to sit tight and see what [the Supreme Court] might be doing”
on the Montana case.
Mason said the FEC should not wait any
longer to put Citizens United into regulations, although the rules would
likely not be in place for the 2012 elections due to the time necessary to
pass them. The FEC declined to comment.
furor over the Montana case was way overblown because there was nothing
to suggest that the justices were changing their minds,” Mason said. “This was a great sandcastle that was built by the campaign finance reform community and was completely washed away.”