Montana and corruption

At least part of Montana’s rules on campaign donations is still around, barely:

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated Montana’s campaign donation limits, telling the federal judge who struck down the limits that the panel needs to see his full reasoning so it can review the case.

The court intervened late Tuesday less than a week after the judge’s decision opened the door to unlimited money in state elections – during the height of election season.

In response, U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell issued a 38-page conclusion Wednesday morning that reinforced his earlier decision finding that the state’s limits are too low to allow effective campaigning. He suggested the state Legislature would have a “clean canvas” to perhaps establish new, higher limits that could meet constitutional muster.

The 9th circuit did not immediately respond, leaving the state limits in place – for the time being. The legal back and forth came with less than a month until Election Day.

Montana was one of the states that had a campaign finance law overturned by the Citizens United decision:

The Supreme Court has struck down a Montana ban on corporate political money, ruling 5 to 4 that the controversial 2010 Citizens United ruling applies to state and local elections.

The court broke in American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock along the same lines as in the original Citizens United case, when the court ruled that corporate money is speech and thus corporations can spend unlimited amounts on elections.

What makes this ruling especially grating is the reasoning in Citizens United:

In his original decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy argued that independent campaign expenditures by corporations “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” Ginsberg argued that the Montana case was an opportunity to reconsider “in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance.”

The Montana law was passed about 100 years ago because of specific, actual corruption:

 a law dating back to 1912, when the country was just beginning to stagger out  of its previous Gilded Age, that forbade corporate contributions to election  campaigns. This law was passed partly as a consequence of the activities of one  William Clark,The Copper King, who spent tens of thousands of dollars to buy  himself a Senate seat, back in the days in which this required the wholesale  purchase of state legislators, and did so in such an egregious and clumsy  fashion that the U.S. Senate tossed him out on his ear, Montana passed its law  and, eventually, the country ratified the 17th Amendment, providing for the  direct election of Senators which, as we have seen, has now led to the wholesale  purchase of U.S. Senate seats by corporate proxies, thanks to the nine wise  souls in Washington.

There’s more  here:

This article first details the extent of that corruption, which was so pervasive that in 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt’s Solicitor General, echoing Mark Twain, described Montana as a place “where open confessions of sales of political and even judicial influence were lightly looked upon. The article describes three examples that the Solicitor General likely had in mind. The first involved the election of copper king William Andrews Clark to the U.S. Senate in 1899. Clark won his election through a brazen bribery campaign that ended up being the focus of an investigation by the U.S. Senate, which forced Clark to resign a few months after taking office. The other two examples concern corrupt district judges elected in Butte in 1900, Edward Harney and William Clancy, who had been “bought and paid for” by another copper king, F. Augustus Heinze. Their numerous biased rulings in Heinze’s favor in some of the most high-stakes litigation in the United States had substantial impacts on the State and the Nation.

Mark Twain even got into it:

He is said to have bought legislatures and judges as other men buy food and raiment. By his example he has so excused and so sweetened corruption that in Montana it no longer has an offensive smell. His history is known to everybody; he is as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag; he is a shame to the American nation, and no one has helped to send him to the Senate who did not know that his proper place was the penitentiary, with a ball and chain on his legs. To my mind he is the most disgusting creature that the republic has produced since Tweed’s time.

Anyway, I hope this little bit of campaign finance reform holds.

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