On June 25, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down by a 5-4 margin Montana’s 100-year old ban on corporate political spending in American Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Bullock. The Court’s decision effectively expanded its 2010 Citizens United ruling to the state and local elections.
In Citizens United the Court held that federal campaign spending limits placed on corporations and unions violated the First Amendment. The Court famously pronounced that “independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” Thus 23 states immediately dropped enforcement of their corporate political spending laws. Montana did not.
In 1912, Montana voters passed a referendum that banned corporations from spending money “in connection with a candidate or a political committee that supports or opposes a candidate or a political party.” Montana argued in American Tradition Partnership that its campaign spending law was passed in response to overwhelming evidence of corruption. The Court rejected this approach, writing that, “Montana’s arguments in support of the judgment below either were already rejected in Citizens United, or fail to meaningfully distinguish that case.”
The Court issued its decision without holding an oral argument. The Court’s opinion does not identify the author (“per curiam”). Justice Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan joined.
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