HELENA – Montana’s top Democratic officeholders criticized a U.S. Supreme Court decision Wednesday that eliminated overall campaign finance limits in federal elections.
However, Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Daines said he believes this court decision protects Americans’ First Amendment rights.
In McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to strike down overall contribution limits that prevented an individual from donating more than $123,000 combined to candidates and party committees in any two-year election cycle. That includes a separate $48,600 cap on contributions to candidates.
The Supreme Court left unchanged the $2,600 maximum that individuals can donate to a candidate for federal office, or $5,200 in both the primary and general elections.
“The Supreme Court today allowed big money to continue its manipulation of our democracy,” U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said. “In an era where corporations are people and the wealthiest Americans buy elections, today’s decision further empowers a select few at the expense of the American people. Make no mistake: This decision is a setback for our freedoms.”
Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., who is running this year to retain his seat, agreed.
“Today’s ruling is another consequence of the disastrous Citizens United decision, which set this country on a dangerous path of allowing corporations to buy elections,” Walsh said. “Montana voters are best served by getting to know their candidates, not by out-of-state, special interest spending that distorts the issues and records of those running for office.”
Daines, who is running for the Senate seat, had a different take.
“We are all frustrated by the cost of elections and amount of money in campaigns,” Daines said. “However, today’s decision won’t make that better or worse. As Americans, we know that free speech for all is critical to a free society. I respect the role that the Supreme Court holds in protecting our First Amendment rights and believe that today’s decision was made with that protection in mind.”
Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock also criticized the decision.
“It seems as if the Supreme Court is determined to give total license to the wealthy to use their resources to drown out the voices of working families in our elections,” Bullock said. “It’s disappointing that court’s majority once again issued a ruling that seeks to turn our elections into auctions. I wish I could say that I’m surprised, but I’m not. “
Bullock said this decision, along with previous ones by the court, “makes it all the more important that we protect our Montana laws that require disclosure and transparency.”
As attorney general, Bullock led the fight against the Citizens United ruling as he defended Montana’s voter-passed 1912 Corrupt Practices Act. However, the Supreme Court summarily reversed a Montana Supreme Court decision upholding the Corrupt Practices Act.
In the 2010 Citizens United decision, the U.S. Supreme Court removed restrictions on independent campaign spending by corporations and unions.
Chuck Johnson is chief of the Lee Newspapers State Bureau in Helena. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at (406) 447-4066 or (800) 525-4920.
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