HELENA, Mont. — Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia are backing Montana in its fight to prevent the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision from being used to strike down state laws restricting corporate campaign spending.
The states, led by New York, are asking the high court to preserve Montana’s state-level regulations on corporate political expenditures, according to a copy of a brief written by the New York attorney general’s office and obtained by the Associated Press ahead of Monday’s filing.
The Supreme Court is being asked to reverse a state court’s decision to uphold the Montana law. The Virginia-based American Tradition Partnership is asking the nation’s high court to rule without a hearing because the group says the state law conflicts directly with the Citizens United decision that removed the federal ban on corporate campaign spending.
The Supreme Court has blocked the Montana law until it can look at the case.
The Montana case has prompted critics to hope the court will reverse itself on the controversial Citizens United ruling. The 22 states and the District say the Montana law is sharply different from the federal issues in the Citizens United case, so the ruling shouldn’t apply to Montana’s law or other state laws regulating corporate campaign spending.
But the states also said they would support a Supreme Court decision to reconsider portions of the Citizens United ruling either in a future case or in the Montana case, if the justices decide to take it on.
Legal observers say they don’t count on the Supreme Court reconsidering its decision.
“It is highly unlikely that the court would reverse its decision in Citizens United,” said law professor Richard L. Hasen of the University of California, Irvine.
At best, the court would listen to arguments and might agree a clarification is needed to allow the Montana law to stand. But even that is a long shot, Mr. Hasen said.
Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock argues that political corruption in the Copper King era led to the state ban on corporate campaign spending. A clarification of Citizens United is needed to make clear that states can block certain political spending in the interest of limiting corruption, he said.
American Tradition Partnership argues that the state bans unfairly restrict the ability of corporations to engage in the political process that also affects them.
Mr. Bullock wrote in a brief to be released Monday that the state does not “ban” corporate political speech, rather, it regulates that speech by requiring the formation of political action committees.
The Democrat, who is running for governor, said the upstart political corporations hoping to take advantage of unfettered spending are merely “an anonymous conduit of unaccountable campaign spending.”
Montana and the other states are asking the court to either let the Montana Supreme Court decision stand or to hold a full hearing. They argue laws like the one in Montana that bans political spending straight from corporate treasuries are needed to prevent corruption.
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