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February 9, 2012

Montana Supreme Court: Corporate Spending Ban Intact While Appeal Pends

In a decision released late Wednesday afternoon, the Montana Supreme Court struck down a request by the Washington, D.C.-based Western Tradition Partnership to temporarily suspended enforcement of the Corrupt Practices Act – the good government and clean elections measure passed by citizens’ initiative in 1912 banning corporate expenditures in political campaigns.

“I’m very pleased with this decision.  The Montana Supreme Court has preserved the integrity of our elections and the voice of the people in the political process,” Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock said.  “I’ll continue to defend our laws and make sure that people – not corporations – elect our leaders.”

In early 2011, Western Tradition Partnership challenged Montana’s century-old ban.  Attorney General Bullock personally defended the law in District Court and then before the Montana Supreme Court.  A Helena District Court judge initially struck down the 100-year-old ban. But Montana Supreme Court late last year sided with Bullock, reversed the lower court’s ruling and re-affirmed Montana’s ban on corporate expenditures in elections.

Western Tradition Partnership had asked Montana’s high court to “stay” their decision while the group appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court.  That move was denied and Montana will continue to enforce the century-old ban on corporate spending in elections.

Mike Cooney, who served as Montana’s Secretary of State from 1989 to 2001 and oversaw the integrity of elections, noted that only two years ago, nearly half the states in the country banned corporate expenditures.  After the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United – which opened federal elections up to corporate spending and so-called Super PACs – Montana was the only state to fight to keep their state law on the books.

“I’m pleased the Montana Supreme Court examined our history of corporate dominance and corruption in the political sphere and recognized the importance of the Corrupt Practices Act,” Cooney said.  “Because of the dogged determination of our Attorney General, Montana is the only state in the country with an enforceable ban on corporate expenditures.”

In the federal Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case, Bullock and his office wrote the amicus brief opposing unrestricted spending by corporations to influence the outcome of elections. Twenty-four other states signed on to the brief. Bullock was also invited to testify to the U.S. Senate on the matter.