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U.S. Supreme Court Should Not Review Montana Case Upholding Corporate Spending Limits

May 21, 2012 

U.S. Supreme Court Should Not Review Montana Case Upholding Corporate Spending Limits

If Supreme Court Does Take the Case, It Should Reconsider Influence of ‘Independent’ Political Spending, Former Election Officials Say

 WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Supreme Court should not review the Montana Supreme Court case that upheld the state’s limits on corporate spending, Public Citizen attorneys and a team of other lawyers said in a friend-of-the-court brief filed on behalf of a group of former federal and state officials. If the U.S. Supreme Court does decide to hear the case, it should fundamentally reconsider its decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the brief said.

The Citizens United decision has damaged our electoral system by unleashing limitless contributions by corporations, labor unions and individuals to Super PACs and other groups closely aligned with candidates for office, the brief said.

The brief supports the state of Montana in its effort to defend the Montana Supreme Court’s decision in American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock, which upheld the state’s longstanding limits on corporate political spending. Groups and businesses seeking to use unlimited, and in some cases undisclosed, corporate funds in Montana elections are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review and summarily reverse the state court’s decision. 

In Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court said that so-called “independent” political spending poses no threat of corrupting candidates, clearing the way for Super PACs and other outside spending groups to collect unlimited contributions to use in support of candidates. The result has been that candidates have come to rely on million-dollar-plus contributions to those groups in the same way they have traditionally relied on contributions to their own campaigns. The threat of corruption posed by huge cash transfers to Super PACs and other spending groups grows more apparent each day.

If the U.S. Supreme Court did decide to review the case and summarily reversed the state court’s decision, it would reinforce the overly broad interpretation of Citizens United that has led directly to these consequences, the brief said.

Further, if the U.S. Supreme Court does hear the Montana case, it should reconsider Citizens United’s fundamental premises, including the mistaken view that “independent” spending cannot lead to corruption.

Public Citizen Attorney Scott Nelson and former U.S. Solicitor General Seth Waxman of the law firm WilmerHale are the principal authors of the brief. Other attorneys from Democracy 21 and WilmerHale also participated in preparing the brief.


Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.