Political Animal


November 04, 2012 11:25 PM This year’s most intriguing ballot referendum: Montana’s corporate personhood initiative

By Kathleen Geier

Montana is among the deepest of red states. Mitt Romney currently enjoys a comfortable lead there, and Nate Silver estimates that he has a 98% probability of winning the state. Yet at the same time, Montanans are poised to support a ballot initiative that is about as far away from Mitt Romney-style conservatism as you can get. The measure, known as I-66, declares that corporations are not human beings and bans corporate money in politics. It’s populism at its most robust, and it is being supported by the Democratic governor, Brian Schweitzer; the Republican lieutenant governor, John Bohlinger, and various citizens’ groups; its opponents include various Republican lawmakers and the American Tradition Partnership, a right-wing advocacy group. The one poll I was able to find about the measure showed it leading by a whopping 29 points: 53% in favor, 24% opposed. It looks like a shoe-in to pass.

There are however, a few wrinkles. The initiative is has been described as “nonbinding;” it is simply a policy statement that would direct the behavior of Montana’s congressional delegation. Moreover, according to constitutional law experts, it wouldn’t be enforceable, because it conflicts with federal law.

So why, then, could I-66 be important? First, some background: earlier this year, the Supreme Court reversed Montana’s 100-year old law, the visionary Corrupt Practices Act, which banned political contributions by corporations. That case followed on the heels of a landmark Supreme Court ruling, the infamous Citizens United decision, which held that corporations had a First Amendment right to spend unlimited corporate money in elections. By opening the floodgates of corporate funding and essentially giving our elected officials license to sell themselves to the highest bidder, Citizens United poses a grave threat to our democracy. Ordinary people need to take their country back from the one percenters and corporate oligarchs, and I-66 gives them a weapon in the fight.

Supporters believe that I-66, if passed, could, in Governor Brian Schweitzer’s words, “start a prairie fire” that spreads across the nation. They say it could be the first step in mounting a test case to challenge Citizens United, or perhaps in building a movement to pass “an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that abolishes the Citizen’s United decision.”.

Governor Schweitzer points out that

It was Montana in 1912 that banned corporate money from our elections. We don’t mind leading and we believe it has to start somewhere. This business of allowing corporations to bribe their way into government has got to stop. [Snip] Once Americans understand that’s what’s going on here they’ll stand up, they’ll stand with Montana.

It will be fascinating to see what happens with this.

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee


  • mudwall jackson on November 05, 2012 1:40 AM:

    hopefully, the governor is right. the surest way to overturn citizens united is through a constitutional amendment and the only way to get that done is through pressure from every possible angle.

  • c u n d gulag on November 05, 2012 7:45 AM:

    I hope that, if President Obama wins, and the Senate stays under the control of the Democrat's, and that they gain some ground in the House, that the feckin' idjit billionaires realize that Citizens United was a self-imposed tax on their stupidity - and that the only one who won, was Karl Rove.

    And if I were a Billionaire, I'd bring Karl in, and waterboard the FAT SOB, until he gave me my feckin' money back - JUST 'CAUSE I COULD!

  • boatboy_srq on November 05, 2012 9:01 AM:

    [E]arlier this year, the Supreme Court reversed Montana’s 100-year old law, the visionary Corrupt Practices Act, which banned political contributions by corporations. That case followed on the heels of a landmark Supreme Court ruling, the infamous Citizens United decision, which held that corporations had a First Amendment right to spend unlimited corporate money in elections.

    THIS, above all, should dispel all the sanctimonious whinging about "states' rights": the states' rights push from the GOTea has absolutely nothing to do with states having the authority to enact policies the Reichwing doesn't like. States, according to this precedent, have (only) the right to enact anti-federal statutes and policies with which the Reichwing agrees - and anything and everything else is trumped by federal law and SCOTUS decision.

    Ms. Geier: excellent justaposition of this item and the one previous - the fallacy of the states' rights argument (among others) becomes painfully transparent.

  • John Sully on November 05, 2012 9:52 AM:

    Correction here: it is I-166.

    Our crappy local paper hasn't been doing much in the way of polling results on other than the top line races (Senate, Gov, AG) so I wasn't aware of this, good news. Most people I know in this state are sick and tired of the ads and of American Tradition Partnership, who incidentally, look like they are going down hard for election law violations.

  • dweb on November 05, 2012 10:34 AM:

    Word is that CA has won a court suit and will shortly be releasing the identity of the AZ PAC donors who have funneled tons of money into CA in support of efforts to defeat a ballot initiative to raise taxes to help solve the state's budget crisis, and to support a move that would cripple the ability of unions to raise funds to argue for or against future initiatives.

    Gonna be interesting to see who they are. Don't know if it will come in time to make a difference.

  • jpeckjr on November 05, 2012 10:36 AM:

    We have a local referendum on this matter, too, in Chico, California.

    Our City Council passed a resolution disagreeing with "corporate personhood" by a 5 - 2 vote. The referendum asks the voters to "affirm" the City Council resolution. The conservatives argued, essentially, that we should respect the decision of SCOTUS, a view I'm sure they apply equally to all SCOTUS decisions (chortle).

    At one level, I think this referendum is a silly waste of time. But I did vote-by-mail to affirm the Council's resolution. I believe a state or local govt should be able to enact restrictions on political contributions that apply only to state or local offices.

  • Anonymous on November 05, 2012 11:00 AM:

    Question for John Sully and any other Montanans: with Sen. Tester apparently going to be defeated in his re-election bid, if it were Schweitzer running instead, would he have a better chance of defeating Rehberg? Just curious.

    Also, has Schweitzer indicated what he'll do in the future re politics? Or is he going back to ranching?

  • LAllen56 in Colorado on November 05, 2012 11:01 AM:

    Colorado has a ballot item that legislators from the state will support all efforts to reverse Citizens United. If it passes, the populist brushfire will get bigger, spread and eventually become a nightmare for the big money that brought it about. I have hope.

  • lgerard on November 05, 2012 11:38 AM:

    This is also on the ballot in MA, as a nonbinding resolution. There has been virtually no public discussion of it though.

  • pop on November 05, 2012 12:11 PM:

    like Lillian responded I am stunned that a person can earn $4033 in one month on the internet. did you look at this website.....Key14.Com

  • meander on November 05, 2012 3:09 PM:

    San Francisco has Measure G, an advisory measure, which, according to pre-election coverage in the San Francisco Chronicle (which recommends a YES vote):

    On the Nov. 6 ballot, San Franciscans will weigh in on Proposition G, which instructs Congress to pass a constitutional amendment reversing the Citizens United decision and ending "artificial corporate rights."

    The declaration of policy was sponsored by Supervisors John Avalos, Christina Olague, Eric Mar and David Campos and was approved 10-0 by the Board of Supervisors with one member absent.