American Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Bullock
On June 25, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a decision of the Montana Supreme Court that had upheld a Montana state law prohibiting corporations from making expenditures supporting or opposing candidates or political parties. The Court held that the Montana decision was inconsistent with the high court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010).
Montana Supreme Court decision
Since 1912, Montana state law has prohibited corporations from making contributions or expenditures in “connection with a candidate or a political committee that supports or opposes a candidate or a political party.” Under Montana law, corporations may instead establish political action committees (PACs) known as separate segregated funds in order to make political contributions or expenditures.
The federal campaign finance law includes similar provisions. However, in its January 21, 2010, decision in Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court held that, under the First Amendment, corporations could not be prohibited from expending general treasury funds in connection with federal elections, so long as those expenditures were not made in coordination or cooperation with a candidate or political party. The Court held in that case that “independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” 558 U.S. 310 (2010) at 42.
Notwithstanding the Citizens United decision, on December 30, 2011, the Montana Supreme Court held that Montana’s political environment makes it “especially vulnerable to continued efforts of corporate control to the detriment of democracy and the republican form of government. Clearly Montana has unique and compelling interests to protect through preservation of this statute [prohibiting corporate expenditures in Montana state elections].” 2011 MT 328 at 22-23. Further, the Montana Supreme Court held in its opinion that the state of Montana has a compelling interest in preserving the integrity of its judicial system, under which judges are elected directly by the people in nonpartisan elections.
On February 17, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay of the Montana decision pending the timely filing and disposition of a petition for a writ of certiorari.
U.S. Supreme Court decision
On June 25, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Montana decision as inconsistent with the holding in Citizens United that “political speech does not lose First Amendment protection simply because its source is a corporation.” The Court affirmed that its holding in Citizens United applies to the Montana statute, writing, “There can be no serious doubt that it does [apply to the Montana statute]…Montana’s arguments in support of the judgment [in this case] were already rejected in Citizens United, or fail to meaningfully distinguish that case.” 567 U.S. 516 (2012).
U.S. Supreme Court No. 11-1179.
Source: FEC Record — July 2012