Campaign Spending Challenge Heard in Helena

Aaron Flint posted on September 30, 2010 08:09 :: 950 Views

A coalition of conservative groups and business interests are challenging Montana’s restrictions on corporate spending in elections.  A hearing on the matter takes place Thursday afternoon in Helena, as Lee Newspaper’s Chuck Johnson reports.  The challenge comes on the heels of a ruling by the US Supreme Court overturning bans on corporate spending in campaigns as a violation of the First Amendment.  

Johnson reports on the angle argued before the court by the plaintiffs, including the Montana Shooting Sports Association and Western Tradition Partnership, as well as the defendants- State Attorney General Steve Bullock’s office:

“Citizens United clearly and unambiguously establishes the First Amendment right of all corporations, including the plaintiffs, to engage in political speech by spending corporate funds to support or oppose political candidates and/or parties,” Barg wrote. “This is the same right that is already being enjoyed by individuals, unincorporated associations and the media. Yet without any compelling interest, corporations are being deprived of this right by (the Montana law).”

In defending the state law, Bullock, state solicitor Anthony Johnstone and assistant attorney general James Molloy said, “If this court believes that its only role is to mechanistically apply the holdings of Citizens United — without consideration of the history of our state, the Corrupt Practices Act, the differences between federal and state elections, the government interests at state or even the plaintiffs bring this action — there is little if any ground to cover in the upcoming hearing.”

Meanwhile, at the national level, Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) is looking to use his perch as the Chairman of the US Senate Finance Committee to bring about changes in the tax code to go after his political enemies.  And, as Time magazine’s Michael Crowley points out– liberal activist groups have been doing this for years, but now that conservative groups are stepping into the foray- Baucus wants the IRS to crack down.

But similar groups have been around for several years–in past elections, mainly on the Democratic side–and the IRS hasn’t seem very troubled. Ending the practice of anodyne-sounding groups that raise and spend unlimited amounts of money with little or no disclosure will probably take an act of Congress. But Congressional Democrats haven’t been able to get a modest package of new disclosure provisions beyond Senate GOP objections, and the coming influx of Republicans to the capital isn’t going to make other reforms very likely in the near future.   

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