The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision has forced states to amend or completely throw out some anti-corruption laws that they had previously enacted, sometimes over a century ago. But one governor is fighting back. In a New York Times op-ed, Montana governor Brian Schweitzer (D) details the transparency he is trying to preserve in his state. Before Citizens United, Montana was at the forefront of anti-corruption laws having enacted legislation a century ago that banned corporate money from campaigns and later large individual donations too. As Governor Schweitzer explains:
These laws have nurtured a rare, pure form of democracy. There’s very little money in Montana politics. Legislators are basically volunteers: they are ranchers, teachers, carpenters and all else, who put their professions on hold to serve a 90-day session, every odd year, for $80 a day.
Now, the Supreme Court has effectively overturned Montana’s cherished anti-corruption laws and enabled corporations to corrupt the state once again. Governor Schweitzer is seeing this unfold firsthand:
… I’ve started receiving bills on my desk that have been ghostwritten by a host of industries looking to weaken state laws, including gold mining companies that want to overturn a state ban on the use of cyanide to mine gold, and developers who want to build condos right on the edge of our legendary trout streams.
In the absence of strict rules governing campaign money, these big players will eventually get what they seek. I vetoed these bills, but future governors might sign them if they have been bribed by the same type of money that is now corrupting our State Legislature.
To prevent Washington-style corruption in Montana, Schweitzer supports a federal constitutional amendment that would enable states like his to ban corporate financing of political campaigns. Hopefully other governors will learn from Schweitzer’s example and join his fight.