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Schweitzer signs initiative opposing corporate donations

2012-05-04T00:00:00Z Schweitzer signs initiative opposing corporate donationsBy CHARLES S. JOHNSON IR State Bureau Helena Independent Record

Gov. Brian Schweitzer signed an initiative Thursday that supporters hope will boost a national effort to overturn the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed corporations to give unlimited money in political campaigns.

“You will send a signal to this entire world that Montana is not for sale,” Schweitzer said at a ceremony outside the Montana House where he signed Initiative 166.

Joining him in signing the measure were Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger and former Secretary of State Verner Bertelsen.

I-166 is a nonbinding policy statement that calls on Montana elected and appointed state and federal officials to implement “a policy that corporations are not human beings with constitutional rights.”

It is in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision. The court, in a 5-4 ruling, struck down federal restrictions on corporate spending as an infringement of corporations’ free-speech rights.

Soon after that, a group now known as American Tradition Partnership and others challenged Montana’s 1912 voter-approved initiative that banned independent political spending by corporations, citing the U.S. Supreme Court precedent. The District Court struck down the Montana law as unconstitutional.

Last December, the Montana Supreme Court, in a 5-2 decision, upheld the Montana law.

American Tradition Partnership asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up an appeal of the Montana ruling. The U.S. Supreme Court has blocked enforcement of the Montana law until it decides whether to hear an appeal.

Even if it passes, I-166 would change nothing because it has no force of law, but backers said it will send a strong message around the country.

The only ways to overturn the Citizens United decision is to amend the U.S. Constitution, a difficult task that has occurred only 27 times in U.S. history, or for the court to reverse its ruling eventually.

Schweitzer said Montanans aren’t afraid to take on tough causes.

“A hundred years ago, Montanans didn’t look at each other and say, ‘Well, gosh, maybe we ought to wait and see what they do in Washington, D.C.’ ” Schweitzer said. “A hundred years ago, Montanans stood together and said, ‘You can’t buy our government in Montana.’ We’ve always been leaders.

“It’s never been a concern of the people of Montana to stand up to Washington, D.C. We did it on the Patriot Act, we did it on Real ID and we’ll do it on bribery.”

When he and Bohlinger teamed up to run for governor and lieutenant governor in 2004 and 2008, Schweitzer said they wanted to send a signal about elections and decided not to accept money from political action committees, or PACs, even though it’s legal.

“We said you can’t buy a place at the front of the line with our administration,” the governor said, adding: “And today we want to make a point. This is our government, and we’re not going to allow any corporation to steal it from us.”

Montana is the only state proposing such an initiative, said C.B. Pearson, treasurer of Stand with Montanans: Corporations Aren’t People — Ban Corporate Spending. He said the group is getting financial help from Common Cause and Free Speech for People, two national organizations.

For I-166 to qualify for the ballot, backers must obtain the signatures of 5 percent of Montana voters, or 24,337 people, including 5 percent of the voters in 34 of the 100 state House districts by June 22.

Copyright 2015 Helena Independent Record. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(8) Comments

  1. LegAdv
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    LegAdv - May 05, 2012 9:21 am
    The reality is that I-166, if passed, will invite yet, another round of multiple constitutional challenges that the Montana taxpayers can ill-afford to defend against, given the likelihood of the U.S. Supreme Court granting certiorari in the American Tradition Partnership case and reversing the Montana Supreme Court's decision in that case. In addition, unless CI-109 also qualifies for the November ballot and passes, the 2013 Montana Legislature may amend or repeal this statutory initiative. At the present time, there are at least four Joint Resolutions that have been introduced in Congress in response to the Citizens United v. FEC decision and these resolutions appear to address most, if not all, of the issues outlined in I-166 (H.J.Res. 8; H.J.Res. 86; S.J.Res. 29; and S.J.Res. 35). Those who support this initiative might want to consider lending their support to one or more of these resolutions instead, as the continued pursuit of I-166 at this point will likely be nothing more than an exercise in futility.
  2. getaclue
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    getaclue - May 04, 2012 6:17 pm
    If unions can spend unlimited then so shall corporations. Unions are businesses too so what is the big damn dealio?
    Obama is supposed to be the first billion dollar president, so what are you afraid of liberals?
    Anyone who wants to donate, should have the right. It is no different than when a PAC calls you on the phone right? Oh I suppose you liberals do not donate do you? That would mean you have to steal from a working class citizen like me to get the money, and you wouldnt do that would you now?
  3. caribouboy
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    caribouboy - May 04, 2012 3:00 pm
    Yeah this is awesome...what is it again. Oh, it's a statement against free speech. This is awesome...I feel so much better about myself. YAY!
  4. Limber
    Report Abuse
    Limber - May 04, 2012 10:54 am
    This is good! Having said that, the question "What about the unions?" is a total right wing distraction from the core issue. The corporate superpacs are pushing topic. Those who take up the hollar are really doing the PR of the corporations for them! Congratulations! Give it a rest! The law applies equally to corporations and unions, making this a non-issue. More to the point, unions had nothing to do with bringing us the Citizens United ruling.
  5. MtFreedom9
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    MtFreedom9 - May 04, 2012 8:50 am
    The Governor is right. This is a necessary change and will help make our elections more fair. Citizens United was a gift to the corporations by the Supreme Court. Anyone in Congress who voted for John Roberts should be ashamed of himself. (I say himself because of course those in Congress are almost all men.)
  6. justme59601
    Report Abuse
    justme59601 - May 04, 2012 8:04 am
    what about unions?
  7. Outlaw
    Report Abuse
    Outlaw - May 04, 2012 7:40 am
    This is great. Corporations are not people. Hey guess what Unions are not people either.
  8. Reader14
    Report Abuse
    Reader14 - May 04, 2012 6:57 am
    It’s unbelievable that this corporate spending ban was struck down by the Feds. Montana had a valid reason for enacting this ban and should have the right to keep it.

    Actually, it just makes sense for it to be the law for the entire country. A person has to wonder why corporations want to pour unlimited funds into campaigns. That carries the stench of corruption and it is a long stretch to call it “free speech”.

    If it was “free”, money (or compensation) wouldn’t change hands. Maybe it should be called “hired speech”.

    A corporation, particularly one with stockholders, is usually a collection of individuals (officers, directors, trustees, etc) who make decisions on behalf of the corporation. Even if it is comprised of a single person, that single person makes the decisions, not the corporation.

    Those individuals and anyone else in the corporation can make donations to campaigns, so that should be sufficient to support any candidate.

    Voters should be wary of any candidate that accepts corporate contributions and should wonder how and where the debt of those contributions will be paid.

    Governor, you’ve been in the corral dirt on a number of issues, but by signing this initiative, you’ve stepped onto the new spring grass. Way to go!

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