The Montana Threat to the First Amendment

June 11, 2012

In previous posts, I’ve discussed how Montana is now the sharp end of the spear in the liberal effort to overturn the Citizens United decision which held that the government cannot abridge the First Amendment rights of companies, labor unions or other organizations.  Montana’s Supreme Court is defying that ruling, so the state is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse its decision.

As George Will has pointed out, “reasons for the Supreme Court to reconsider Citizens United are nonexistent.”  But Montana’s Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer is giving it a shot anyway.  In a remarkable New York Times op-ed, Schweitzer yearns for the halcyon pre-Citizens United days when Montana legislators were “basically volunteers” – “ranchers, teachers, carpenters” who “put their professions on hold” to selflessly serve that state for $80 a day for 90 days every other year.

In February, however, Montana was forced to stop enforcing its restrictions on corporate campaign contributions.  Since then, according to Schweitzer, all Hell has broken use.  Now the once virtuous collection of rancher/teacher/carpenter legislators are throwing up bills to “build condos right on the edge of [Montana’s] legendary trout stream” and encourage the “use of cyanide to mine gold.”  Luckily, Schweitzer was on hand to veto these bills, but “future governors might sign them if they have been bribed by the same type of money that is now corrupting” legislators.  Once that happens, Montana will sadly follow the “Washington model of corruption” – where “corporation legally bribe members of Congress by bankrolling their campaigns … and get whatever they need in return.”

Schweitzer makes it sound like the only thing standing between righteousness and corruption is Citizens United. But as Senator Mitch McConnell pointed out in an amicus brief in opposition to Montana’s attempt to reverse the case, prior to Citizens United, 26 states had no restrictions on corporate independent expenditures, all without any apparent corrupting influence on legislators.  Since the ruling, not a single Fortune 100 company has contributed a cent to any of the eight Super PACs supporting Republican presidential candidates, despite doomsday warnings from President Obama that “big oil, Wall Street banks [and] health insurance companies” – the unholy trinity in the liberal imagination – would swoop in to buy elections.

The point is, left-wing hysteria from politicians like Schweitzer is just a bunch of noise.  Moreover, the public has ample protections against corrupt politicians that don’t require chucking the First Amendment into the trash bin.  Those protections are called elections.

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