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US Supreme Court strikes down state ban on corporate donations

2012-06-26T00:40:00Z 2012-06-26T00:46:04Z US Supreme Court strikes down state ban on corporate donationsBy CHARLES S. JOHNSON IR State Bureau Helena Independent Record

The U.S. Supreme Court made it clear Monday in a 5-4 decision: corporations now can make unlimited independent expenditures from their corporate treasuries for or against statewide, district and legislative candidates in Montana. 

The court on Feb. 17 had temporarily blocked enforcement of Montana’s century-old ban on corporations making these independent expenditures in campaigns until it settled the issue.

On Monday, the issue was settled. Both corporations and unions can make unlimited independent expenses from their treasuries for independent expenditures for or against candidates.

So what will it mean for Montana elections this year?

“Simply put, it imposes the federal rules on the states — so the implication is beyond merely Montana,” said David Parker, a political scientist at Montana State University. “That means that the type of activity we are seeing at the federal level now can, of course, happen at the state level.”

Parker said he suspects the greatest impact the decision will have will be on the governor’s race and other statewide races.

“What is interesting is that the candidates will be hampered by their relative inability to respond to this outside money,” he said.

While Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester and his Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, can raise “fairly substantial sums of money,” Parker said the donation limits for state races are “significantly less.”

Individuals can give up to $2,500 to a U.S. Senate and House candidate in the primary and $2,500 more in the general election.

Limits in state races, however, are far less.

Montana allows an individual to donate up to $630 to a candidate for governor for the primary and an additional $630 for the general election.

The limit is $310 per election for a candidate for attorney general, Supreme Court justice, Supreme Court clerk, state auditor, secretary of state, superintendent of public instruction and secretary of state.

“This will make it hard to counter all that outside money and make it easier for outside groups to establish the issue terrain,” Parker said.

The limit drops to $160 per election for candidates for the state House and Senate, Public Service Commission and district judge.

“It is harder to gauge the effect on legislative races,” Parker said. “Assumedly, competitive seats — like House District 63 here in Bozeman — will be the center of attention.”

But Parker questioned where this new source of money will be spent.

“TV ads are already getting locked up for the fall, so much of the money that might go into advertising for legislative races by these outside groups might go to grassroots, voter contact efforts,” the MSU professor said.

State Senate Majority Leader Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, called for eliminating these state limits, which is something the Legislature can do.

“If we really want to empower the voice of individuals in Montana, we need to focus on removing the caps on what individuals can donate,” Essmann said.

He called the current limits “ridiculous.”

“In a state this large with seven different media markets, it makes it impossible for a (statewide) candidate to introduce himself or herself around the state,” Essmann said.

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

(7) Comments

  1. Cousin_Eddie
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    Cousin_Eddie - June 26, 2012 7:21 pm
    Now you know better than that. ACORN is a 501 c3 shell. It's biggest contributor was the SEIU. It's union no matter how you slice it. Also notice you never addressed the SEIU, nor any of my other points, but I was sure you wouldn't. You do not seem interested in a substantive discussion; merely to rattle off talking points and reject other points of view without any consideration of their merit. Sad.
  2. FlamingLiberal
    Report Abuse
    FlamingLiberal - June 26, 2012 2:09 pm
    BZZZZT! Cousin_Eddie, your answer was incorrect. ACORN was not a union, but a 501c(3) organization, and the only voter fraud which was proven was the employees who were being paid for each registration submitted registered some false names. It was never proven that any fraudulent votes were cast or fraudulent voter registration cards even issued, because even had the elections office not caught "Donald Duck," no one actually tried to present ID and vote under that name.

    Try again.
  3. Cousin_Eddie
    Report Abuse
    Cousin_Eddie - June 26, 2012 12:24 pm
    To FlamingLiberal: I choose the SEIU/Acorn 2008 example of how a union had significant influence in an election. That was easy. If unions are good for the working people, explain Wisconsin (the birthplace of the public sector union); or San Diego and San Jose, who just voted big union pension cuts. I certainly agree that at one time, unions had their place and played a key role in making the workplace safer and more humane. But over time, they became every bit as greedy and unresponsive to their constituents as they claimed coporations were. Unions are going the way of the dinosaur. They have outlived their usefulness and have become the beast that cannot be fed. Remember the old axiom: what cannot continue, won't.
  4. FlamingLiberal
    Report Abuse
    FlamingLiberal - June 26, 2012 10:52 am
    Name one time since Reagan broke up the air traffic controllers' strike 30 years ago that a union has had significant influence in an election or held anything but nominal power? I challenge all you union-bashers to do so. Unions are GOOD for the working people. Unions gave us the 40-hour work week, overtime pay, the weekend. Unions helped end child labor, and bring us workplace safety. Both times I was given a chance to join a union, I jumped at the chance and did so gladly. I INFINITELY prefer a unionized workplace over a non-union one. I happily pay my dues, knowing that I am protected by a contract, and management can't just mess with me for whatever bogus reason they make up.
  5. justme59601
    Report Abuse
    justme59601 - June 26, 2012 8:56 am
    Thinker said: "Congradualations to our "elected" supreme court on making our elections a farce. Now with enough money anyone can buy any election. "

    kind of like the unions do everytime they get a chance...

  6. Thinker
    Report Abuse
    Thinker - June 26, 2012 7:15 am
    Congradualations to our "elected" supreme court on making our elections a farce. Now with enough money anyone can buy any election.
  7. Redfour5
    Report Abuse
    Redfour5 - June 26, 2012 5:31 am
    Montana learns a lesson the hard way a hundred years ago and puts in place a check and balance on abuse. The people decided they didn't like big rich dudes like the Kochs trying to manipulate them and THEIR govt. And Scrotus rebukes Montana saying our history isn't valid? Let's see our elections are relatively civil and more about issues instead of the pushing of emotional hot buttons. Let's put in place the strictest disclosure laws in the country so the super rich can't hide behind thier billions trying to manipulate you. I want to know what underwear they buy. Like the Kochs and their Americans for Prosperity. How do you like being played Montanans? We aren't the left or right coast. Get em out of our business. Let em play elsewhere.

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