In short, Montana's law barred fictitious entities who cannot vote from using money to affect the outcome of an election.
The Corrupt Practices Act was challenged in the wake of Citizens United v FEC, 558 U.S. ___(2010), where the conservative majority simply reframed the issue into a baseball-and-apple-pie discussion of whether associations of citizens have a First Amendment right to political speech.
Yeah. Because huge multinational conglomerates are just simple citizen-collectives, and buying national elections and officials is just their way of expressing their political views.
See? No biggie.
The American Tradition Partnership Inc. is a self-described,“no-compromise grassroots organization dedicated to fighting the radical environmentalist agenda.” They insist, “If you decide to support the program, no politician, no bureaucrat and no radical environmentalist will ever know you helped make this program possible.”*
American Tradition Partnership Inc. (in its previous incarnation as Western Tradition Partnership) challenged the Corrupt Practices Act on the basis Montana's political contribution limitations were invalid subsequent to Citizens United. The Supreme Court of Montana noted the corporation's admitted, undisputed function was to allow donors to make unlimited, secret political contributions. Providing abundant evidence of the corrupting influence of such expenditures in Montana prior to enacting the Corrupt Practices Act, the court drew the distinction between the state law at issue and the McCain-Feingold Act overturned in Citizen's United and upheld their state law as an appropriately measured response to address the real problem of political corruption in Montana.
American Tradition Partnership Inc. v Bullock, 567 U.S. ___ (2012) provided the SCOTUS conservative majority's Dr. Frankenstein its chance to kill its Super-PAC "social welfare" abominations, and some small opportunity for redemption, given they're so utterly, blissfully, willfully out-of-touch with reality they were willing to choose to believe as a matter of faith that:
"independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption. That speakers may have influence over or access to elected officials does not mean that those officials are corrupt. And the appearance of influence or access will not cause the electorate to lose faith in this democracy." (Citizen's United v FEC, 558 U.S. ___, 2010)
It is important to note that every one of their colleagues joined the American Tradition Partnership, Inc. dissent that pointedly noted:
"Montana’s experience, like considerable experience elsewhere since the Court’s decision in Citizens United, casts grave doubt on the Court’s supposition that independent expenditures do not corrupt or appear to do so."
I would attempt to summarize their argument and analysis — but there isn't one.
The stunningly meager 146 word opinion simply states that the reversal of Montana's highest court is justified because "there can be no serious doubt" the issue was entirely and conclusively settled by Citizen's United.
So...yeah, their substantive opinion amounts to "we already told you once." Wow. Those kinds of opinions have been exceedingly rare, are reserved for uncontroversial cases where the entire panel is pretty much all on the same page.
Which is very much not this.
Given that states have always had the power to control their own elections, how do you suppose these conservatives would approach the issue of a state that's deliberately creating laws that encroach and override a power that has always been federal? You'd think they'd slap that uppity state down with a quickness, wouldn't you?
Well, you'd be wrong. The conservatives who think Montana legislators and judges can't reasonably regulate political spending in Montana, insist — as long as they don't racially profile — Arizona cops who suspect Mexicans of being illegal should be permitted to detain said Mexicans to until proof of legal residence is established.
In support of Arizona's "Papers, Please" law the majority would draw your attention to a federal law that requires foreign nationals to carry proof of legal residency. Super. But I don't really care about how this law affects illegals. I care deeply how this law affects Americans — some of whom are ethnically Mexican or appear to be otherwise..."foreign." Cops have never had the right or power to detain us until we establish our citizenship to their satisfaction.
Now the court is cool with this — as long as the cops are not open and obvious about the racist reasons why they stopped you in the first place.
After all, Americans have elected a black president so we're totes not racist anymore.
God knows nobody would think anything as stupid as "this guy seems suspiciously African. Let's harass him with demands for proof of citizenship, for like, the billionth time."
No siree. Can't happen here.
* What a relief. Someone needs to keep Montana safe for rampant mine-and-dash operations where industry exploits bankruptcy law to transfer its toxic cleanup obligations the taxpayer. That's some conservative-approved bootstrappy personal responsibility free enterprise there, for sure.
** Per curium is legalspeak for "nobody will claim the turd."