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Montana high court okays corporate personhood ballot initiative, strikes down tax referendum

The Supreme Court of Montana [official website] on Friday ruled [decision, PDF] that its state's November ballots may include Initiative 166 [text, PDF], a nonbinding policy statement that would direct the state's congress to support an amendment to the US Constitution [text] asserting that corporations are not people and money does not qualify as speech. The goal of the endeavor is to counteract the 2010 US Supreme Court [official website] decision of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission [text, PDF], which allows corporations to spend and contribute unlimited and unrestricted money in political campaigns. The court's majority made clear, however, that its decision was limited only to whether the initiative complied with constitutional requirements regarding its proper submission to electors, and that it did not consider the "substantive legality of the issue, if approved by voters." The dissent echoed this distinction, labeling Initiative 166 as "simply a feel-good exercise exhibiting contempt for the federal government and, particularly, the US Supreme Court." In another election case on Friday, the court upheld a ruling to strike Legislative Referendum 123 [text, PDF], a tax rebate referendum that would have allowed individual taxpayers and property owners "a refund of surplus state government fund balance through an income tax credit." While the 4-3 majority declared that its "opinion, analysis and rationale will follow in due course," District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock, who originally ruled on the case, declared [AP report] the referendum to be an unconstitutional delegation of power by the Legislature.

Campaign finance [JURIST news archive] laws have been recently contentious in the state of Montana. In a June per curiam opinion, the US Supreme Court struck down [JURIST report] a century-old Montana campaign finance law that restricted the amount of money corporations can spend on political campaigns. In particular, the court said that the restrictions imposed by Montana's 1912 Corrupt Practices Act [PPL backgrounder] were already rejected by the Citizens United ruling. The June order overturned a previous Montana Supreme Court decision upholding [JURIST report] the law.

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