The Montana Lesson

This week, President Obama’s re-election campaign announced that in spite of the President’s stated opposition to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, it would not refuse Super PAC contributions.

"With so much at stake, we can’t allow for two sets of rules in this election whereby the Republican nominee is the beneficiary of unlimited spending and Democrats unilaterally disarm," Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in a blogpost Monday night.

History shows that this is just defeatism, through and through. Why? Well, Montana, for one.

In the waning hours of 2011, the Montana Supreme Court restored the state's hundred-year ban on direct spending by corporations on political candidates. The challenge originated from an anti-environmental trade group called "Western Tradition" that cited Citizens United as precedent. According to the Wall Street Journal, Western Tradition's executive director compared Montana's Corrupt Practices Act of 1912 to a poll tax. "Free speech is free speech," a Western Tradition spokesperson told the Journal.

Larry Howell, an associate professor at University of Montana's School of Law, writes that "Montana’s continued fight to restrict independent corporate expenditures in campaigns for elected office is rooted in the State’s history of corrupt elections during the War of the Copper Kings, which took place at the turn of the twentieth century."

Brazen doesn't begin to describe the corruption in turn-of-the-century Montana, says Howell. Practically all the newspapers in the state were run by the mine owners. Since at the time United States senators were elected by state legislatures, Howell writes that mine-owner and "Copper King" William A. Clark wanted a senate seat so badly that in 1899 he paid more than a half a million dollars in bribes to legislators and judges. In the early 1900s, two mine owners combined to control district judges and a plurality of legislators in their fight against Amalgamated Copper; the results of their wheeling-and-dealing effectively shut the state down and nearly gutted the judiciary.

It was these instances, "along with the general corruption that pervaded almost every aspect of the State's culture and politics," says Howell that "led the residents of Montana to rise up in 1912, and pass the Corrupt Practices Act by citizen initiative."      

The lesson history has and the example to us here in the 21st century isn't that this fight is always going on. Rather, it's that just a tiny slice of America, a slice made up of miners, laborers, and aging populists, living in a state that was ruled by "kings" and was home to some of the richest people in the world, organized and won a major, lasting victory over the corrupting influence of wealth and money in politics.

They didn't give up, and they didn't give in to lesser-of-two-evilism.

If that poor, bedraggled bunch could do it, why should does the President, the most powerful person on the planet, have to give in?

Better yet, why should we?

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  • commented 2012-02-14 10:01:43 -0700
    Great. Thanks for reading, MJ!
  • commented 2012-02-14 09:57:16 -0700 this explains more on this.
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