[JURIST] The Montana Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] on Friday to uphold a restriction on corporate independent expenditures related to state political campaigns and candidates. In the case, Western Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Montana, the high court affirmed a century-old ban on corporate spending, implemented by the 1912 Corrupt Practices Act [PPL backgrounder]. The high court concluded that corporations have numerous avenues for voicing their political views, despite the ban on independent expenditures. Specifically, the law allows corporations to set up Political Action Committees (PACs) fund political speech:
Corporations, through their political committees organized under Montana law, are and have been a substantial presence and active participants in Montana politics … The many lobbyists and political committees who participate in each session of the Montana Legislature bear witness. Under the undisputed facts here, the political committee is an easily implemented and effective alternative to direct corporate spending for engaging in political speech.
A main difference between corporate independent expenditures and PACs is that, under Montana state law, PACs are subject to special disclosure and reporting laws. Two judges dissented from the majority, arguing [AP report] that the US Supreme Court [official website] ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] declares that a state cannot impose a complete ban on corporate spending. The dissent predicts that if the Supreme Court hears this case, it will overturn the Montana high court’s decision.
Campaign finance [JURIST news archive] has been a hotly contested issue recently. Two weeks ago, the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] struck down [JURIST report] a Wisconsin law that prohibited people from donating more than $10,000 per year to political action committees. In June, the US Supreme Court ruled that an Arizona campaign finance regulation violated the First Amendment [JURIST report]. In May, the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit [official website] upheld [JURIST report] a Minnesota law that prohibited direct contributions to candidates and affiliated entities. The US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] ruled in 2009 that a Connecticut campaign finance law discriminated against minor party candidates [JURIST report] in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
Correction: Prior versions of this article referred to direct corporate campaign contributions opposed to corporate “independent expenditures.” Updated February 16, 2012.