The Supremes blow it again

by Pete Talbot

Voting the same way they did on Citizens United (5-4), U.S. Supreme Court Justices overturned Montana’s century-old ban on corporate contributions to campaigns.

So, corporations are still people and money still equals free speech: the more money you have the more free speech you get.

The Copper Kings were the reason Montanans voted to ban corporate political spending in 1912.  Since my writing skills aren’t quite up to Mark Twain’s, here’s a quote of his from the Washington Post article:

… Twain wrote of one such mining giant in 1907, Sen. William Clark, “He is said to have bought legislatures and judges as other men buy food and raiment. By his example he has so excused and so sweetened corruption that in Montana it no longer has an offensive smell.”

This ruling is depressing but not surprising.  I could go on-and-on but since it’s Monday and I have a lot on my plate, consider this an open thread.


  1. JC

    Well, it is easy to just blame this on the SCOTUS. But if Bullock would have mounted a full-fledged defense, under the 11th amendment, the summary reversal could have gone the other way, and instead of strengthening Citizen’s United it could have been weakened.

    • Pete Talbot

      I wanted to flesh out this post more, like adding JC’s link (above). Just ran out of time. Ergo, the open thread. I appreciate all your insights and additions.

      I’m not sure that a more aggressive defense by Bullock would have rendered a different verdict, though.

      • I found the link to Adam Furlach on jhywgirl’s comment on JC post very compelling. Something smells funny about all of this and it isn’t just the Supremes. Remember that Democrats help put in Scalia, Roberts, and Alito. And Democrats don’t seem to mount compelling and complete arguments in front of these wise guys. This is what Sheldon Wolin call managed democracy with both parties acting together against the citizens.

      • JC

        I’m not going to engage in counterfactuals here Pete. You’re absolutely correct that the SCOTUS could have ruled the same way given the opportunity to consider an 11th amendment argument. But we’ll never know, and it will go down that Bullock mounted an insufficient, or incomplete defense. The implications of that are huge. I’ve got a bunch of thoughts rolling around that I’ll try to summarize in the next few days.

        But thanks for the open thread. I’m too busy today to compose a post.

  2. evdebs

    The title of this post is too long.

    “The Supremes blow,” would have said it all.

    I wish one of them would walk in front of Greg Barkus’s car when he is in his usual state.

  3. Let’s look on the bright side: it’s a huge step toward granting civil rights to artificial lifeforms….

  4. Jhwygirl

    Maybe Bullock is the one who blew it by not throwing there 11th Amendment into Montana’s defense.

    • Pete Talbot

      Perhaps. Seems to me that the 5-4 vote was a foregone conclusion, no matter what Bullock threw at them. Unless we get some new justices, a Constitutional Amendment is the only way to deal with Citizens United.

      • Jhwygirl

        In the beginning, former scotus clerks had the odds in Bullock’k favor.

        A constitutional amendment isn’t the only way. There’s plenty of ink on that.

        From election law experts.

        States limit how much I can donate. If corporations are people, they can be treated just like me.

        • JC

          There is a distinction between contributions and independent expenditures that is key to this discussion. You are free to spend as much as you want on an election — just not in cooperation with, or in direct contribution to a candidate.

          For a good discussion and background, including the history leading up to Citizen’s United and the current case, read the Montana Law Review’s fine “Once Upon A Time In The West”.

      • JC

        Well, now that states have been emasculated from protecting themselves against corporate money via a federal usurpation of state sovereign immunity, what’s to prevent corporations dumping whatever amount of money needed into the states to prevent a constitutional amendment from being proposed and/or ratified?

        I see this decision as a death knell to our ability to self-govern.

        • Pete Talbot

          I couldn’t agree more, JC. But there’s nothing on the books to keep corporations from donating unlimited funds to ballot initiatives, constitutional amendments or referendums. I’ve seen corporations demolish many a good one over the years. I consider this another major flaw in electoral politics.

          I’m betting the good people of Montana won’t buy into the corporate smear campaigns against citizen initiatives (the cyanide/heap-leach gold mining referendum comes to mind). But I could lose that bet.

          Looking forward to your post on the SCOTUS/Bullock ruling.

          • JC

            Baucus, i.e., is proposing a Constitutional Amendment based on reversing Citizen’s United. Amendments have to pass both houses of Congress by 2/3 majority. Plenty of room for unlimited independent expenditures to have a chilling or moderating effect.

            If Congress were to send an Amendment to the States via this route for ratification, then 3/4 of the States’ legislatures (most likely route) or State Convention would have to ratify. Again, plenty of opportunity for corruption to occur.

            Today’s ruling by SCOTUS unleashed the floodgate of corporate funding to fight Montana’s ratification of a corporate personhood Amendment, should one ever reach the states.

            The Citizen’s Initiative I think you are referring to (I-166), only directs Montana’s Congressional delegation to propose an anti-corporate personhood amendment. Its policy statement (“corporations are not entitled to constitutional rights because they are not human beings”) is just fluffery.

  5. Buzz Feedback

    Big thanks to the Democrats in the Gang of 14 who acquiesced on a bunch of Federal court appointments back in ’05 … and then got nothing in return by allowing Roberts and Alito to waltz onto the SC. Well done.

  6. Big Johansson

    To quote Joe Biden.

    “This is a big f’n deal”.

    • JC

      Are you taking this as a “win?”

      • Big Johansson

        Absolutely.

        But more importantly a demoralizing one at that. Not one, but two bitchslaps.

        A another even bigger one to come.

  7. KC Whistle

    Until we get to “live, actual american citizens participating with valid individual identifiers within their own political subdivisions” our system is compromised.

    It still leaves billionaires spending their own money but eliminates all the shenanigans from non profits and for profits and associations and organizations.

    I’m looking for consistency, neither churches of the middle eastern monotheisms nor the earth worshipping push pollers, nor associations of any self interest regardless of which IRS paragraph under which they’re organized.

    This ruling levels the playing field for all the incorporated anythings, but individual citizens are increasingly marginalized, exactly the wrong message to send.

    • Rob Kailey

      Best comment by far. And the best reason to vote at the polls instead of with silence or ‘online’.

    • JC

      “This ruling levels the playing field for all the incorporated anythings,”

      AMIBA would heartily disagree with you (emphasis added):

      Jeff Milchen is the co-founder of the Montana-based American Independent Business Alliance, which was party to briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court in Citizens United v FEC and ATP v Bullock. Milchen said today: “The Supreme Court claims that ‘independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.’ Montanans know differently from our own experience. Our state Supreme Court upheld the Corrupt Practices Act because Montana presented incontrovertible evidence of such corruption. For the Court majority to summarily dismiss a ruling based on factual record that disproves their theories is profoundly disturbing, if not surprising.”

      AMIBA represents the interests of independent businesses which, Milchen said, “are directly harmed when large corporations are permitted to translate their wealth into political power that yields tax loopholes, subsidies and other preferential treatment.

      The SCOTUS ruling definitely creates an unlevel playing field, as larger businesses will have more “voice” than smaller, independent businesses, whereas previously they were both treated equal as to independent expenditures.

      • KC Whistle

        Well, now AMIBA, which is a corporation, will be able to spend as much money as its Wallmart hating ideas will attract. AMIBA isn’t a person, either.

  8. KC Whistle

    As for the presumptive Governor-Elect; I don’t buy off the on any of the conspiracies offered. This was a shot at glory, not to be watered down by issues other than The Big Shot at anti Corporate Glory.

    We’ve seen constitutional amendments aimed at reducing freedom shot down in California. I’m not sure why anyone who celebrated the overturning of that last California anti gay marriage constitutional amendment be buying off on other amendments with similar arguments. Unless it’s just our side versus yours advantages and not freedom you’re really supporting.

  9. Great interviews with TEAM (The Eleventh Amendment Movement) people on the Peter B. Collins Show
    http://www.11thamendment.org/2012/04/30/the-11th-amendment/
    Best explanations of the Montana case that I’ve heard including why the switcheroo in the name change adding Bullock’ s name should in itself lead to the case being thrown out.

    TEAM also wonders If Bullock’s challenger would use the loss in the Governor’s race.
    We live in interesting times.

  10. Chenza at Court. The Court of Silence.

  11. Peter Talbot

    Great post: all true.
    We have learned that the court will stay blind to the corrupting influence of huge aggregations of capital; blind and deaf to the dire warnings of founders Adams, Jefferson, et al to prevent same from destroying the polity; deaf and dumb in the face of mounting conviction that we have crossed the line marked by De Tocqueville: “America will cease to be great when it ceases to be good.”
    Corporations have the power they do due to an even more central and critical SCOTUS series of horrors that begin with the Reconstruction court. It was in the Court’s frenzy to protect capital from freedmen organization in Louisiana and elsewhere that Corporations first became “persons” due protection under the Bill of Rights. The current brain-dead court is simply continuing to fawn obsequiously before the golden calf of big bucks.




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