In light of the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court Ruling in 2010,corporations have constitutionally protected speech, which allows them to use corporate money to influence elections. This is a real bummer, and a big reason why we started Goods Unite Us. More recent Supreme Court decisions though have created hope about state-level legislation that can better address the national issue of money in politics.
In 2015, Montana Governor Steve Bullock – who is the only new member to join the Democratic debate stage at the end of this month – signed the “Montana Disclose Act” into law, which aimed to improve the disclosure process of political contributions and “make Montana elections the most transparent in the nation.” Since its passing, the Disclose Act has been contentious, especially in the courtroom. Since the start of 2019, the US Supreme Court has twice upheld the Disclose Act, declaring that state-level contribution limits and disclosure policies were constitutional.
The legal battle commenced with grievances from Montanans for Community Development, who are dismayed by the Disclose Act, which subjects groups who spend in excess of $250 on political speech to regulatory requirements. Specifically, Montanans for Community Development were frustrated that information about candidates could not be distributed via mail within 60 days of the election without properly disclosing the source of funding. In essence, Montanans for Community Development are challenging the exact goal of the Disclose Act: transparency.
Despite persistent legal challenges, the US Supreme Court, as well as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Portland, Oregon, have repeatedly upheld legislative efforts combatting dark money, and found constitutional state laws regulating political contributions and expenditures. Interestingly, Governor Bullock is not finished working to increase transparency in elections, as he now aims to pass legislation that limits the effect of foreign contributions on Montana’s elections.
While the US Supreme Court may have granted the right to free speech to corporations, this has not prevented states from addressing the issue of corporate donations with state-level regulations. In fact, Colorado, Delaware, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, Washington, and West Virginia all have joined Montana in limiting donations to Gubernatorial (governor) candidates to $2,000 and donations to the state legislature to $1,000. Some even cap contributions at $250.
While state legislation is welcomed as part of the solution to improving transparency about political contributions to elections, it shouldn’t stop there. You can have an impact on corporate spending by evaluating your personal purchasing decisions. Corporations profit from our daily transactions, and these profits are, in part, spent on political causes that could either increase or decrease the likelihood of meaningful campaign finance reform. By using the Goods Unite Us app, you can become a better-informed consumer and start to influence corporations on needed reform. So download the free app today!