Friday, February 24, 2012

Super-PACs and Court Cases | Casey's Last Word

The Supreme Court of the State of Montana has done something that should make them heroes to all Texans and especially Governor Rick Perry.

They have stood up to Washington.

In a recent decision, the Montana Supreme Court voted 5-2 to uphold a hundred-year-old law severely restricting the use of corporate money on behalf of political candidates.

It was a cheeky decision in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision two years ago.

It’s that decision that has so-called super-PACS spending fantastic amounts to further the fortunes of individual candidates.

Mitt Romney’s super-PAC alone spent $14 million just in January to promote his candidacy.

The money overwhelmingly came in large chunks from wealthy individuals and from corporations.

While Romney was floundering, the super-PAC money blasted an avalanche of negative advertising to effectively destroy a rising Newt Gingrich, whose own super-PAC received $10 million from a single Las Vegas casino magnate.

The Romney super-PAC now has its sights set on Rick Santorum.

In standing up to the inside-the-beltway Supreme Court, Montana’s justices said the Citizens United case was decided “under its facts or lack of facts.”

The Montanans noted that the 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court majority ruled that there was no evidence that corporate contributions caused corruption or the perception of corruption.

Montana’s law was, indeed, based on a different set of facts.

It was the direct result of decades of scandal in which mining companies were shown to have bought the state’s judiciary and legislature.

Sure, the law was passed by referendum exactly 100 years ago, but nothing in recent history indicates that greed has been removed from the basic nature of humanity or corporations.

Texas officially came to the same conclusion a bit earlier than Montana.

We passed our first law outlawing corporate financial support for candidates in 1903 – after repeated scandals involving railroads and banks.

It was under that law, much amended through the years but still standing, that former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was convicted of money laundering corporate cash for use in legislative races.

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to stay the Montana court’s decision while it decides whether to take it up.

Two of its more liberal members, who were in the minority on Citizens United, seem to hope that the fact that super-PACS are already outspending candidates will cause a couple of their brethren to change their minds.

The appeal, wrote Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Beyer, “will give the court an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway.”

Interestingly, we don’t hear Governor Perry or any other Texas political leaders cheering on the Montana judges as they stand up to Washington.

Instead, we hear regret that the Texas primary is being delayed so long because of the redistricting mess that we may be irrelevant in the presidential nomination process -- and thereby miss the advertising windfall of tens of millions of super-PAC dollars.

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