Point: All the Chicken Littles’ fear over campaign ruling unfounded
Written by JAMES BROWN
Chicken Little, the sky is falling. Reading from Gov. Brian Schweitzer’ and Attorney General Steve Bullock’s reactions to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision this week reversing the Montana Supreme Court’s decision that upheld a state law banning corporations and unions in Montana from directly financing political advertisements for or against candidates for public office, you would think that, like chicken little, the world is coming to an end.
Bullock is quoted in the Great Falls Tribune as calling the U.S. Supreme Court just “another political body” for their actions in merely affirming the court’s earlier holding in Citizens United v. FEC that political speech does not lose First Amendment protection simply because its source is a corporation or a union. As a practicing attorney, I find Bullock’s unsupported charge of political activism by the United States Supreme Court is both distasteful and unbecoming of one who has the privilege of being able to practice law. Similarly, Gov. Schweitzer is quoted as saying the Supreme Court’s decision will “result in a system whereby large moneyed interest will own all of our government.” If that is the case, is Gov. Schweitzer acknowledging publicly that he now will be owned by large moneyed interests as well?
The rhetoric associated with the Supreme Court’s decision does not match the reality. Contrary to what the Chicken Littles of Montana have asserted, the Supreme Court’s decision does not allow corporations, namely foreign corporations, or unions to give money directly to political candidates. Further, the decision does not in any way impact your or my right to cast a vote for our favored candidate.
Rather, in denying Monday the state’s attempt to carve out corporate and union speech in Montana from First Amendment protections, the U.S. Supreme Court merely reaffirmed what long has been understood under the United States Constitution. That is, the court succinctly stated that the First Amendment protects both speech and the speaker, the ideas that flow from each, and protects against attempts to cut off certain unfavored viewpoints. Adhering to these sound principles, the court now has struck down federal and state laws that prohibited persons who associate together from spending their money to independently run advertisements that merely mention the name of a candidate for public office. The ruling applies equally to corporations large and small in Montana, and to every union in this state. Common sense dictates there is nothing devious, evil, or corrupting about allowing Montana citizens to pool their resources to speak about public policy issues and or candidates.
The Citizens United decision rests on sound constitutional principles. The Founding Fathers were distrustful of government’s power to direct political discourse; and they were particularly troubled by governments passing laws intended to suppress and ban political speech about government-related issues. That was the very kind of law that Montana had in place for almost 100 years and that my clients, Montana citizens, challenged. And it was the very kind of law banning political speech that Steve Bullock (1) used your taxpayer dollars to so vigorously defend from a clearly meritorious constitutional challenge and then (2) used to solicit contributions for his own current campaign for governor.
The First Amendment is written in absolute terms. It protects the rights of all citizens to speak — even citizens who have associated together in unions or corporations. So, the next time you hear a Chicken Little tell you that the sky is falling because your Montana neighbor now lawfully can pay for and run a political advertisement, you can respond that Montana’s big sky got even bigger because the United States Supreme Court has rightfully denied government officials in Montana the power to determine who may legally speak and who may not, and further deprived them of the power to dictate where you, can get your information about government policies and political candidates. That’s a decision worth celebrating.
James Brown is a fourth-generation Beaverhead County resident. Brown is a private practice attorney, practicing primarily in the area of natural-resources law. As part of his practice, he represents Montana citizens in defending their constitutional rights from government intrusion, including representing the plaintiffs who won their U.S. Supreme Court challenge this week.
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- I don’t think I even need to explain this one. I’ve already made it clear where I stand on corporations and corporations like CCA and them still funding towards politicians. They’ve been doing it all these years. Just no one has brought it to light. The sky is not falling Montana.