Guest column by Verner Bertelsen, C.B. Pearson, and Becky Douglas
Column ran in the Missoulian on March 16, 2012 and in the Helena Independent Record on March 18, 2012
It’s time for Montanans to stand up for themselves.
More and more, our individual voices are getting drowned out by big money in politics. The recent Citizens United v. FEC decision by the U.S. Supreme Court has made the situation intolerable.
That’s why on Feb. 28, we filed a citizens’ initiative that we hope will appear on the 2012 ballot.
This initiative states clearly that corporations are not people. Corporations do not breathe, they do not have children, they do not die fighting in wars for our country, and they do not vote in elections.
We hope that you’ll stand with Montanans in this fight. This is one of the greatest challenges in our lifetime and we Montanans are in a critical position in this historic debate.
Here is what we’re up against: The Citizens United decision, supported by five of nine U.S. Supreme Court justices, ruled that corporations have a First Amendment-protected right to free speech that allows them to spend unlimited corporate money in our elections.
Following this ruling, American Tradition Partnership (then called Western Tradition Partnership), sued our state, claiming that Montana’s visionary 100-year-old Corrupt Practices Act, which bans corporations from spending on candidate elections, is unconstitutional. On Dec. 30, 2011, the Montana Supreme Court stood up for our state and issued a ruling that upholds our century-old law.
On Feb. 17 this year, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay of that ruling and will soon decide whether to hear the case.
All this has eliminated Montana’s most vital election law, opening the floodgates for Big Money to drown our airwaves in negative political attack ads.
It’s clear that we can’t stand by any longer. We must take action to protect the voice of Montana voters and our elections.
Our proposed initiative calls for a Montana policy that clearly states corporations aren’t people and that money is not speech. It requires anyone holding an elected or appointed office to prohibit “whenever they can and by all means possible” corporations from making contributions to, or expenditures on, the campaigns of candidates or ballot issues. And it directs Montana’s congressional delegation to propose and work to pass a joint resolution offering an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that abolishes the Citizen’s United decision.
Montanans know firsthand how corporate money corrupts elections.
We saw how the Copper Kings paid their way to dominate our state for decades. We fought back by passing the Corrupt Practices act in 1912.
We applaud and support the efforts of Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock and the Montana Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Mike McGrath, to defend this law against the American Traditions lawsuit. We hope this effort will succeed.
Let’s be clear: We do not advocate the trampling of anyone’s personal rights. If corporate executives want to use their own money for campaign ads, they can form political committees and contribute to them just as the people who fund environmental groups or gun rights organizations do.
But CEOs should not have the right to use money from their shareholders and customers to support political campaigns. We say emphatically once again, corporations are not people.
Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, such as the one we propose, can overrule the highest court in the land. When previous Supreme Courts ruled that slavery and poll taxes were legal, Americans responded by passing constitutional amendments. They did so again after the Court struck down voting rights for 18-year-olds. And Montanans used the initiative process in its first ballot election in 1912 to pass a measure calling for a constitutional amendment to provide direct election of U.S. senators.
Our effort is called Stand with Montanans: Corporations Aren’t People – Ban Corporate Campaign Spending. Our challenge is enormous, but winnable. Just like Montanans who fought against corporate control of elections 100 years ago, we now invite you to stand with us in this fight.
Learn more about our effort and join the fight, visit www.StandWithMontanans.org.
Verner Bertelseon of Helena is a former Montana secretary of state. Co-signed by C.B. Pearson, treasurer, Stand With Montanans: Corporations Aren‘t People – Ban Corporate Spending Missoula, MT; and Becky Douglas of Heritage Timber in Potomac.