Writing for the majority in the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy argued that independent expenditures by corporations “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”
Since then, Super-PACs and corporations have spent record amounts of money in elections nationwide. Corporate spending soared during the 2010 election cycle to $294 million, 427 percent over the previous midterm elections in 2006. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer both suggested that given these “huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance,” Kennedy’s assertion doesn’t hold and the court should reconsider its ruling.
It will have the opportunity to do just that on Thursday when it considers the Montana Supreme Court’s decision in December to uphold the state’s century-old ban on corporate political expenditures in state elections. In February the US Supreme Court informed Montana that it could no longer enforce that law until further notice, and now it must decide whether to hear the state’s case. This is perhaps the most serious challenge to date to the Citizens United decision.
In a recent New York Times op-ed, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer writes that the effects of not being able to enforce the state’s anti-corruption statute “are already being felt here.” He describes “corporate front groups funneling cash into our legislative races,” and bills “ghostwritten by a host of industries looking to weaken state laws,” including overturning a state ban on the use of cyanide to mine gold, and developers seeking “to build condos right on the edge of our legendary trout streams.”
Schweitzer notes that he vetoed the bills but “these big players will eventually get what they seek” if they are allowed to continue their efforts to buy the electoral process.
It is that kind of corruption—which Justice Kennedy minimized—that has moved dozens of local communities across the country to speak out during Resolutions Week, an effort to pass local and state resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment to get money out of politics. Over 100 resolutions have already been proposed.
People don’t want to see a repeat of Wisconsin, where more than $63 million was spent in the recall election ($50 million went to Walker)—much of it from out of state, including $24 million from outside groups. Local public officials also realize that they can’t raise the kind of resources a handpicked, corporate-favored candidate can now access. There is also an obscenely exorbitant presidential campaign on the horizon with a price tag expected to reach $2 billion or more, including hundreds of millions of dollars flowing in from wealthy and corporate interests. In May alone, conservative groups spent $20 million in just nine swing states and Michigan.