Prepared by James Nelson, Justice (ret.) Montana Supreme Court
March 3rd, 2017
We, the people of Montana, have an unusual, unique and important opportunity to help shape the path of our nation and improve our democratic electoral processes. For only the third time in our history, Montana faces a special Congressional election to fill the vacated seat of Ryan Zinke, the newly appointed U.S. Secretary of the Interior.
In the election, there will be debate and different views on many issues. However, all candidates, of all parties, and all Montanans can come together on one overarching, urgent issue. Our next Representative can and must stand with the people of Montana in support of a 28th Amendment to the United States Constitution – an amendment that will ensure that people – not money, not corporations, not special interests – but that the people govern here in Montana and across the nation.
For over 100 years, Montanans have insisted at the ballot box that we the people, not a handful of corporations and wealthy donors, should govern ourselves. In elections from 1912 to 2012, large majorities of Montanans have agreed that reasonable limits on campaign contributions and election spending are necessary to protect the rights of all of us to participate in an uncorrupted political process.
However, today, without a Constitutional Amendment nationally, we cannot enforce the reforms we have approved for our state. This is because the U.S. Supreme Court wrongly struck down campaign finance laws, both state and federal, as violations of the “free speech” rights of corporations and the wealthy. Many of Montana’s current campaign laws have either already been negated or are under attack due to the court’s the bad logic of this ruling.
Just as they did in 1912 when they voted in our Corrupt Practices Act, the people of Montana spoke loud and clear in 2012 about this needed Constitutional Amendment. In 2012, 75 percent of Montana voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 166, instructing Montana’s congressional delegation to work to pass a 28th Amendment. In passing Montana’s I-166 initiative, this huge majority of Montana voters established “a state policy that corporations are not entitled to constitutional rights because they are not human beings, and charge[d] Montana elected and appointed officials, state and federal, to implement that policy. With this policy, the people of Montana establish[ed] that there should be a level playing field in campaign spending, in part by prohibiting corporate campaign contributions and expenditures and by limiting political spending in elections.”
This powerful people’s initiative not only received 75% of the vote, it passed handily in every one of Montana’s 56 counties and was upheld by the Montana Supreme Court when challenged.
Nationally, Montana has led the way, and now 18 states, and nearly 800 cities and towns across America, have called for passage and ratification of the 28th Amendment as advanced by Montana. Montana’s vote demonstrated the strong cross-partisan support for this Constitutional Amendment, and now across this nation, Republicans and Democrats alike are speaking out in support. As Wyoming’s former Sen. Alan Simpson recently said, “We need a Constitutional Amendment because the Supreme Court, in cases such as Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, has made a series of dangerously wrong decisions that make effective reform virtually impossible without a Constitutional Amendment.”
Since the passage of Montana’s I-166 in 2012, the domination of big money and corporate interests has only gotten worse here and across America. The 2016 election was the most expensive ever, with billions of dollars in spending from few, often secret sources. Over $200 million in SuperPAC money came from just three billionaires alone, and money from corporations, the wealthy and special interests now makes up most of the political money in our system. No matter how well-intentioned our candidates and elected representatives may be, the interests of the ordinary citizens of Montana and of our country are overwhelmed and disregarded because of this tsunami of tainted money.
As Montanans, we were right when we led the way in fighting back in the courts and with our big cross-partisan win for the I-166 ballot initiative. Now we have the right to expect our elected representatives to reflect the vote and values of our people and the leadership of our state.
In this upcoming special election, we ask that every candidate, of whatever party, Stand with Montanans and work within Montana and then in the Congress to win cross-partisan support for a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and get corrupting money out of our elections. We ask every candidate to comply with the very clear instruction of the people of Montana. And we encourage voters to support only candidates who pledge to follow Montana voters’ call for a 28th Amendment to put government back in the hands of the people.
Former Montana Supreme Court Justice Jim Nelson – Helena
Former Montana Lt. Governor John Bohlinger – Billings
Evan Barrett, retired history teacher, writer and activist – Butte
Bozeman City Commissioner and Former Gallatin County Commissioner Jeff Krauss – Bozeman
Stand with Montanans Treasurer – C.B. Pearson – Missoula