Yesterday, the Montana Supreme Court upheld a century-old law banning corporate spending in state and local political campaigns, thereby ignoring the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling from almost two years ago.

This is a remarkable ruling by the Montana High Court (a 5-2 decision in a conservative state, no less), and it lends credence to the arguments against Citizens United that have been made by the majority of Americans, legal scholars, and many members of both parties for the last year.

It will likely be overturned, of course. If the plaintiffs appeal, the US Supreme Court naturally will simply rescind this ruling, likely with another 5-4 majority decision. But for the first time, a notable panel of jurists has openly written in a majority opinion that the US Supreme Court’s ruling last year was, in essence, a steaming pile of feces artfully molded to appear as though it stood on legal grounds.

The Montana Court’s decision is useful and important, but not really a surprise to us, right? I mean we, the uneducated masses and wanna-be lawyers of the nation who love to wax legal on the weekends, have been calling “Bullshit” on Citizens United for two years! These jurists aren’t saying anything we don’t already know.

What makes the ruling remarkable is the direct, specific language they used to do it. Please attend (emphasis added):

“Corporations are not persons. Human beings are persons, and it is an affront to the inviolable dignity of our species that courts have created a legal fiction which forces people—human beings—to share fundamental, natural rights with soulless creatures of government…while corporations and human beings share many of the same rights under the law, they clearly are not bound equally to the same codes of good conduct, decency, and morality, and they are not held equally accountable for their sins. Indeed, it is truly ironic that the death penalty and hell are reserved only to natural persons.”

This paragraph brings to light my primary argument with the notion that corporations (or any legal entity other than a person) deserve the same inherent rights – protected by the Constitution – as any individual citizen. And that argument is: who IS a corporation? Who generates its opinions? Who directs its campaign spending? And when it breaks the law, who is held accountable? How is it (the corporation) punished?

A corporation itself has no opinion. It is merely a legal entity. Ask it what it thinks and you’ll likely be psychoanalyzed for talking to yourself. Ask its spokesperson or executive and you may get an answer, but that is the answer of an individual, not a legal entity. Even if the spokesperson is entitled to express that opinion by corporate policy, I argue that the generation of that opinion is muddled and insufficient at best. After all, who crafts that opinion? The shareholders? Maybe. The employees? Surely not. The patrons who spent their money on the products or services that generated the revenue that is now being used to fund a campaign? No way.

Most likely, the direction of corporate campaign spending (or, as the US High court would call it, “speech”) is set forth by a small group of people at the very top of the organization, executives (or in private corporations, owners). Executives who probably don’t share the opinions of all of the shareholders, employees, or consumers who financed that “speech” in the first place. And those executives all have their own voices, and their own votes, and their own resources to also privately promote their own individual opinions as well.

Now try to charge a corporation with a crime. Can’t be done. Sure you can find them guilty of a violation; you can fine them, or suspend a license; but it is impossible to charge a corporation with a crime. To do that, you must specify a person or persons in the corporation who actually committed the criminal act. It’s no surprise that this usually proves futile, especially after an executive has already left the organization, bonus check in hand, and is therefore no longer involved with the offending entity. But that’s for another time. My point here is, if it can’t be held accountable for a crime (like an individual), how can it be deserving of rights equal to an individual?

It seems that legality has established a corporation as a sort of “rights-deserver” yet “responsibility-avoider,” floating in a litigious limbo and sampling the best of both worlds.

In Citizens United, Justice Scalia writes in his rebuttal to Justice Stevens’ dissent that the freedom of speech, as originally understood, includes:

“…the freedom to speak in association with other individuals, including association in the corporate form.”

If this is Justice Scalia’s argument, then I submit the proposal that corporations may indeed express an opinion (or contribute) if they first obtain approval and concurrence of that opinion from all of its shareholders. If the company is privately held, then the same concurrence should be obtained from all of the employees, since it is their labor that generates the revenue that is used to support or defeat candidates.

If “the freedom to speak in association with others” is the basis of their argument, then one cannot assume that those at the top speak for all of the individuals responsible for the generation of the revenue in question. After all, it isn’t the executives’ money, yet somehow it is their decision to decide what candidates or causes will receive it? Hardly seems fair to me.

Of course, the most disturbing and baseless conclusion in the majority opinion of Citizens United is the following (again, emphasis added):

“…this Court now concludes that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption. That speakers may have influence over or access to elected officials does not mean that those officials are corrupt. And the appearance of influence or access will not cause the electorate to lose faith in this democracy.

Sorry…WHAT?! Independent expenditures don’t give rise to corruption? Campaign spending for a candidate is a political favor. And favors get repaid. At an absolute minimum (thanks to privately-funded elections) it will make an official more likely to cater to the “spending entity” in hopes of them repeating their generosity in future election cycles. Call it what you want; corruption, bribery, favors, back-scratching, I don’t care! Yes, in the strictest definition of “corruption” perhaps this argument carries some water for a short distance. But “corruption” or not, the effect is the same. Elected officials do what people with money want them to do.

However, the second conclusion in the paragraph is the real whopper. I don’t know what country Justice Kennedy (the author of the majority opinion) or the other four ideologues on the far-right side of the bench are living in, but the electorate already HAS lost faith in this democracy! It started when three of you appointed George W. Bush President in 2000. And it continued as we felt the political manipulations of Enron, NewsCorp, AIG, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, and Citibank kick our collective financial ass! I know you five are supposed to be smart, but what dream world are you living in?!

Keep in mind Justices, this isn’t a left or right issue. The recent rise of the Libertarian movement is founded in this problem. The Green Party has long condemned corporate spending on campaigns and the Occupy Wall Street movement has carried this protest even further. Democrats are terrified of the Republican-leaning corporate spending machine. Republicans despise the union power that props up the Democrats. And for every corporate-hating liberal out there, the name “George Soros” is rolling off of a conservative’s tongue with hatred and ire. So how can these five supposedly intelligent individuals conclude that influence or access will not cause the electorate to lose faith in this democracy when any FOOL can see that they already have lost faith merely by reading a single day’s worth of political blog comments? It truly boggles the mind.

Which leads me to the most unfortunate aspect of the Citizens United ruling – the final tally.

It was a 5-4 decision. And while this gives the illusion of a five-person majority, the truth is it came down to only one. A single person decided to hand our democracy over to corporate interest (personally, I like to pin this on Clarence Thomas, since he wrote the most ridiculous and authoritarian dissent).

If only one conservative (and supposedly impartial) justice had listened to reason or anticipated the effects of this landmark decision, we’d be in a different place. If they had only been thoughtful and acknowledging of the fragile state of this republic and the plutocracy that has stealthily replaced much of democracy by infecting our system of government, then perhaps we wouldn’t be on the brink of an election cycle that is poised to spend more than $6 billion.

Considering how much of that $6 billion will come from corporations, and how many of those corporations supposedly can’t afford to hire anyone, and how worker wages have remained stagnant for the last 30 years, it is absolutely offensive how much these legally protected entities are willing to spend on influence and access to our government, but not willing to spend on improving the lives of the Americans whom that government purports to serve. Again, the Montana Court’s words ring true, “[corporations] clearly are not bound equally to the same codes of good conduct, decency, and morality, and they are not held equally accountable for their sins.”

The 5-2 majority’s decision in the Treasure State is significant, if only symbolic and short-lived. Perhaps in time other jurists will rise to the challenge and hopefully we can salvage our government of, by, and for the People. Though if it metastasizes quickly enough (and it looks like it may), the cancer of corporate spending could dissolve what democracy we have left.

Citizens United was an affront to the foundations of our democracy and an insult to the individuals who have fought for it in every way imaginable for over 230 years. Anyone, on any side, willing to stand up and voice their opposition should be commended. Any justice willing to do so should be revered. And none have said it better than Justice Stevens in his eloquent dissent (emphasis added):

“At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”

Amen to that.

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