IN Montana’s frontier days, we learned a hard lesson about money in politics, one that’s shaped our campaign-finance laws for a century and made our political system one of the country’s most transparent.
Those laws, and our political way of life, are now being threatened by the Supreme Court — which is why I recently signed a petition for a federal constitutional amendment to ban corporate money from all elections.
All this is in jeopardy, though, thanks to the Supreme Court and its infamous Citizens United ruling. In February the court notified the office of Montana’s commissioner of political practices, which oversees state campaigns, that until further notice, we may no longer enforce our anti-corruption statute, specifically our restriction on corporate money.
The court, which will make a formal ruling on the law soon, cited in the 2010 Citizens United case that corporations are people, too, and told us that our 110-year effort to prevent corruption in Montana had likely been unconstitutional. Who knew?
The effects of the court’s stay are already being felt here. The ink wasn’t even dry when corporate front groups started funneling lots of corporate cash into our legislative races. Many of the backers have remained anonymous by taking advantage of other loopholes in federal law.
But it’s easy to figure out who they are: every industry that wants to change the laws so that more profit can be made and more citizens can be shortchanged.
I know this because I’ve started receiving bills on my desk that have been ghostwritten by a host of industries looking to weaken state laws, including gold mining companies that want to overturn a state ban on the use of cyanide to mine gold, and developers who want to build condos right on the edge of our legendary trout streams.
In the absence of strict rules governing campaign money, these big players will eventually get what they seek. I vetoed these bills, but future governors might sign them if they have been bribed by the same type of money that is now corrupting our State Legislature.
What’s interesting about the fight to re-regulate campaign finance is, it’s truly bipartisan. John McCain is in this, and we all know how much media personalities love John McCain:
Sens. John McCain and Sheldon Whitehouse are teaming up to take on Citizens United. The bipartisan duo filed a friend-of-the-court brief Friday in a Montana Supreme Court case that upheld the state’s ban on independent expenditures by corporations. That case, American Tradition Partnership vs. Bullock, is now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, which issued a stay of the decision in February.
In the 31-page brief, McCain (R-Ariz.) and Whitehouse (D-R.I.) defends Montana’s ban and calls on the Supreme Court to review Citizens United’s finding that vast independent expenditures don’t have a corrupting influence in campaigns.
“Evidence from the 2010 and 2012 electoral cycles has demonstrated that so-called independent expenditures create a strong potential for corruption and the perception thereof,” their brief reads. “The news confirms, daily, that existing campaign finance rules purporting to provide for ‘independence’ and ‘disclosure’ in fact provide neither.”
McCain and Whitehouse said in a joint statement that they were “deeply concerned” about the rise of unlimited and undisclosed spending in elections. “This unregulated and unaccountable spending invites corruption into our political process, and undermines our democracy,” the senators said. “We urge the Supreme Court to make clear that legislatures can take appropriate actions against corrupting influences in campaigns.”
This is the bipartisan issue pundits have been yearning for, yet for some reason we keep on discussing how important it is to coddle, compliment and stroke “private equity”, while handwringing over that divisive monster, President Obama. Senator McCain and President Obama agree that deregulating campaign finance was an incredibly dangerous, radical and stupid idea. They’re on the same page. And, campaign finance is actually a HUGE issue that affects every single person in this country (particularly if every state campaign finance law starts to fall, under Citizens).
You’d think the opinion industry would be celebrating, and shouting this good-government-inspired bipartisan opposition from the rooftops. Oddly, they’re not. Why is that?