Proposed initiative would direct state lawmakers to ban corporate political spending

Former MT Sec. of State Verner Bertelsen

A Montana group is looking to put an initiative on the November ballot that would set state policy banning corporate money from elections. The petition filed Tuesday with the Secretary of State’s office attempts to respond to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision which prohibits corporate spending bans.

This initiative would be a non-binding statement from the people more than anything else.

93 year old former republican Secretary of State Verner Bertelsen says he tries to limit his political and community involvement these days. But he spoke to reporters about this new petition effort called ‘Stand with Montanans’ on Tuesday. He said he was making the exception to help address what he says is an important problem for both parties. And he’s looking all the way to the top.

“Without an amendment to the U.S. Constitution declaring that corporations are not people that money is not speech, policies aimed at cleaning up speech and reducing the volume and influence of money in politics will remain under serious threat,” Bertelsen said.

In a small way, that’s what this petition seeks to eventually accomplish. The group Common Cause Montana filed the petition. After it’s approved, Common Cause will try to gather the signatures needed to put it on the ballot as an initiative.

It would provide Montanans a chance to respond to Citizens United as well as the Supreme Court’s blocking of Montana’s statewide corporate spending ban. Helena Attorney Jonathan Motl wrote the petition.

“This policy says to Montana’s elected and appointed office holders ‘work to change the law of the land so that the political system belongs to human beings (individuals) not corporations,” Motl said.

Motl says it would direct state lawmakers to do what they could to limit corporate spending, trying to find what could work within Citizens United. It also would call on Montana’s Congressional Delegation to work to pass an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to nullify Citizens United. But all of this would be essentially a statement from the voters. It’s non-binding, lawmakers wouldn’t have to do anything.

The Montana Shooting Sports Association is part of the lawsuit against the state’s corporate spending ban.

“Well this sounds to me like some kind of PR campaign than an actual initiative. There are a lot of steps between getting signatures on some petition forms and amending the US constitution,” said Association President Gary Marbut. He argues groups like his should be allowed to use member dues to help influence elections.

Petition author Jonathan Motl says even though this initiative would not be binding, it is far from useless fluff. He says statements like this are how society changes direction.

“It is an essential part of democracy that we revisit the way that we select our leaders and talk about how we elect our leaders and when we quit doing it, we’re gonna be in trouble,” he said.

Motl hopes it could be part of a groundswell that could one day charge federal policies. But the first step is seeing if his petition can gather enough signatures to even make the ballot.


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