Oct 16, 2012 8:58 AM by Marnee Banks - MTN News

Montana campaign issues: I-166, campaign spending

HELENA- A Montana District Court judge says he won't decide on the constitutionality of a controversial ballot issue before the election.

Judge David Cybulski says he will not rule on the merits of I-166 before November 6th, and instead will address whether or not Attorney General Steve Bullock and Secretary of State Linda McCulloch erred when they allowed I-166 on the ballot.

The measure is a policy statement which says corporations are not people with constitutional rights, and since the ballots are already printed and absentees are in the mail, if the judge finds Bullock and McCulloch did indeed make a mistake, he could order county election offices and the Secretary of State's office to not count the votes.

But until a decision is made, Montanans are still faced with a decision about how to vote on I-166.

"I am the treasurer for the ballot committee, Stand with Montanans. Our basic premise is that we really have to address the problem of campaign financing and the [U.S.] Supreme Court got it wrong when it said corporations are people," C.B. Pearson explained.

He is leading the charge to keep corporate money out of politics in Montana, harkening back to the days of the Copper Kings when mining companies controlled the state's politics with large amounts of cash.

A wealthy tycoon by the name of William Clark literally bought his seat in the U.S. Senate and shortly after that, Montana lawmakers made it illegal for corporate money to make its way into politics.

But in 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Citizens United that corporations have the right to free speech, and on the heels of that decision, Montana's ban on corporate politicking was thrown out.

"We don't want to sit by and wait until there is corruption," Pearson said.

That's the theory behind I-166, where a vote for the initiative says corporations are not people. Meanwhile, a vote against it says corporations are people with rights.

Critics, including Helena attorney Jim Brown, say the policy completely flies in the face of the Citizens United decision.

"What does this really mean for Montana? Absolutely nothing because it's a policy statement that says the United State Supreme Court is wrong on its constitutional rulings and there is no redress for that. There is no legislator in Montana that can tell the U.S. Supreme Court that corporations don't have constitutional rights," he said.

Brown added that if I-166 passes, he can't see the constitutionality of it holding up in court.

Click here to read I-166.

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