Sunday, May 13, 2012

Citizens United Decision

The following is a Letter to Editor regarding the Citizens United decision

Jerry O'Neil
By Representative Jerry O'Neil

I don’t blame the Democrats for condemning the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission; nor for lauding Steve Bullock, their candidate for governor, for fighting it. After all, if business interests are allowed to speak as freely as the union and environmental activists who normally support the Democratic Party, it might erode some of their support.

Bullock’s supporters use catch words for their favorite villains, such as, “powerful out-of-state corporations” and “buying our elections” in their propaganda. I readily admit some corporations, such as Bear Stearns, Goldman Sachs and the Federal Reserve System, can be real scary; but this should not justify forbidding local businesses from supporting their favorite political candidates and causes.

The Pierce Pepin electrical cooperative stated in their newsletter, “the Environmental Protection Agency has numerous rules in process which, if enacted, will require utility spending to increase for compliance. - - Some of these rules could cost millions of dollars but only decrease pollution marginally.” Without the decision in Citizens United this likely would have been illegal corporate campaigning. Shouldn’t our energy, lumber and mining companies be allowed to defend themselves when the radical environmentalists and bureaucrats place onerous burdens upon them? Shouldn’t they be allowed to campaign against legislators and laws that will shut them down?

Historically Montana is the poster child for why to stifle corporate participation in elections - and why not to.
In 1912, during the Progressive Era and shortly after copper king W.A. Clark was caught bribing Montana’s legislators to secure a seat in the U.S. Senate, Montana passed a law that severely restricted corporate participation in Montana’s elections. About that time William A. Clark and Marcus Daly purchased virtually all the newspapers in Montana thus nullifying the law's affect on them.

According to University of Montana Journalism Professor Dennis Swibold's book, Copper Chorus: Mining, Politics and the Montana Press, 1889-1959, “not until the late 1950s did their successor, in the form of the Anaconda Co., determine that its newspapers had lost their relevance. Anaconda unyoked much of the state's press, including The Billings Gazette, in 1959 with the sale of its newspaper holdings to Lee Enterprises.”

The issue in Citizens United was whether a non profit corporation opposed to a political candidate had the right to publish a movie about that candidate. This would be the same right as corporate media, such as the media owned by GE, now has. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled “The Government may regulate corporate political speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress that speech altogether.”

In today’s world without the Citizens United decision the copper kings would only need to purchase media corporations to publish videos and movies to advance their political views. The corporations without a voice would include our small, local corporations and cooperatives.

To give Steve Bullock credit for fighting against out of state influence on Montana’s elections would be to ignore his own actions. In his 2008 campaign for the Montana Attorney General’s office he collected over $150,000.00 from out of state interests. He also collected funds from several unions, including SEIU Healthcare and MEA-MFT; donations from employees of the office he was seeking; donations from a good portion of the Montana Trial Lawyers Association’s members; many environmentalists, including Elizabeth Best, presently a candidate for the Montana Supreme Court; along with funds from the NARAL Pro-Choice MT PAC.

You might think Steve Bullock is altruistic and fighting against his and his Democratic Party’s own interests with his battle against the Citizens United decision. This is not the case as is demonstrated by Brian Schweitzer’s campaigns in 2004 and 2008. While stating he would not accept any corporation or PAC money, he never-the-less filled his coffers from the Democratic Party’s union and environmentalist friends. From out of state contributors Schweitzer raised approximately $240,000.00 in 2004 and over $800,000.00 in 2008.

An example of where these out of state interests lie might be deciphered by the $1,000.00 Schweitzer received from Rutherford Seydel who resides in Atlanta, Georgia. Seydel is a director and vice-chairman of The Conservation Fund, co-founder and CEO of the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper Fund, Inc. and is a member of the board of directors of the Southern Environmental Law Center and Turner Environmental Law Clinic.

An example of out of state union interests contributing to Schweitzer’s 2008 campaign would be the $600.00 donation by Edward J. Gorman, III, Exec. Dir., United Brotherhood of Carpenters Health & Safety Fund, which is located at 101 Constitution Ave., N.W., Washington, DC.

Personally I believe Attorney General Steve Bullock in on the wrong track with his crusade to gag corporations in Montana politics. Instead I agree with the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United that the Government may regulate corporate political speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress that speech altogether.”

Jerry O’Neil
Representing HD 3
985 Walsh Road
Columbia Falls, MT 59912

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