There’s one big, but overlooked, development from the election last night: In Montana, a referendum to state that corporations don’t have constitutional rights has unofficially passed by a 75 percent to 25 percent margin. Initiative number 166 stated that “corporations are not entitled to constitutional rights because they are not human beings,” and thus is a blow to the Citizen’s United ruling that helped make this presidential election the most expensive one ever.
Montana has been a leader in trying to buck Citizen’s United, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that equated money with free speech and allowed corporations to contribute unlimited amounts of money to campaigns through super PACs. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a ruling by the Montana Supreme Court that limited political spending in state and local elections. That ruling, which came without a hearing as liberal justices wanted, only strengthened Citizen’s United, but now Montana’s voting populace has fired back.
Montana has long had some of the country’s toughest campaign spending laws, which mostly crumbled under the Supreme Court. According to a nice background piece at CNN, the tradition has its roots in Montana’s mining industry, where copper barons used to buy off politicians in the 1800s. Because the sparsely-populated state is fueled by large mining operations, advocates worry that Citizen’s United will allow mining interests to take control of the state’s legislature yet again.
It’s unclear right now what will happen next. While the initiative states that corporations are not human beings and thus don’t have constitutional rights — Citizen’s United was based on an interpretation of the First Amendment — any changes to spending rules in state and local elections are likely to wind up in the Supreme Court again, which may or may not prompt an actual review of Citizen’s United. (Some folks think that the Supreme Court is finally ready to take another look at what has become one of its most controversial rulings in ages, especially now that the election is over.) But one thing is for sure: In Montana, unlimited corporate spending on elections is resoundingly unpopular.
Image: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Follow Derek Mead on Twitter: @derektmead.