Steve Bullock

Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock gives a speech to

supporters after announcing he will run for governor at the

Billings Depot in September of 2011. Bullock asked the Montana

Supreme Court to leave the state’s century old ban on independant

campaign spending by corporations in place while the court decides

whether to hear an appeal challenging it.

CASEY PAGE/Gazette Staff

HELENA -- The state attorney general's office has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to leave in place Montana's century-old ban on independent campaign spending by corporations while the court decides whether to hear an appeal by the groups challenging it.

Attorney General Steve Bullock's office filed its opposition Wednesday with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who oversees cases in the federal court district that includes Montana.

Bullock was responding to an attempt by American Tradition Partnership, Champion Painting and Montana Shooting Sports Association to block enforcement of the voter-passed 1912 Montana law while they ask the U.S. Supreme Court to accept an appeal of a decision by the state Supreme Court.

"The applicants' request to this court should be understood for what it is: they ask this court to invalidate Montana's Corrupt Practices Act -- an act that has safeguarded the republican form of government in Montana for a century from the scourge of political corruption -- without a record, briefing or argument," said the legal document filed by Bullock, Assistant Attorney General James Molloy and Special Assistant Attorney General Anthony Johnstone.

American Tradition Partnership and other plaintiffs had said they will suffer irreparable harm from leaving the state law in place while the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether to hear the appeal.

American Tradition Partnership and the other groups are asking the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay to suspend enforcement of the Montana law. But what they are seeking, Bullock's document said, is "in effect an injunction against the enforcement of the act, as well as a summary reversal."

The Montana Supreme Court, in a 5-2 ruling in December, overturned a lower court decision and reinstated the state's ban on independent political spending by corporations.

American Tradition Partnership, formerly called Western Tradition Partnership, and the other plaintiffs challenged the Montana law. They contended the state law was unconstitutional under the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which overturned a federal prohibition on independent campaign spending by corporations and unions.

The three plaintiffs had asked the Montana Supreme Court to suspend enforcement of the state ban until the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether to take the appeal. The Montana court refused.

American Tradition Partnership and the others had said that Montana's June 5 primary elections make it "vital that planning begin now for independent expenditures before the election."

Bullock countered that suspending Montana's 1912 Corrupt Practices Act would irreparably harm Montana and its residents. 

In a related matter, some groups issued a press release urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reject pleas to throw out Montana's law.

"In Montana, we believe in honesty and having a fair say," said Common Cause Montana spokesman C.B. Pearson of Missoula. "The people of Montana deserve the right to their day in court on the full merits of our 100-year-old law that has protected us from the corrupting influence of corporate money."

John Bonifaz, executive director of Free Speech for People, said: "The Montana Supreme Court considered a century of experience with the state's Corrupt Practices Act. Montana deserves that same consideration from the U.S. Supreme Court."