Supreme court sets the table for the fossil fuel feast
The overturning of Montana’s ban on corporate contributions to political races will greatly impede the ability to pass strong federal climate and clean energy policy in the near future.
One of the popular sayings in the Beltway is that if you’re
not at the table, you’re on the menu. On
Monday the Supreme Court served on a silver platter more access and power to a fossil
fuel industry already obese with political influence. The overturning of
Montana’s ban on corporate contributions to political races will greatly impede
the ability to pass strong federal climate and clean energy policy in the near
In 1899 (the days when state legislatures elected senators), Montana copper king William Clark was caught bribing the Montana Legislature to send him to the U.S. Senate. The resulting scandal helped spur the amendment to the U.S. Constitution requiring direct election of senators. Burned by that and other experiences, Montanans changed their Constitution in 1912 to ban corporate contributions to political races.
That century-old state decision went out the window this week when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the ban, based on its notorious 2010 Citizens United decision eliminating long-standing restrictions on corporate funding of political campaigns.
When the Citizens United decision came down two years ago, many rightly predicted a tsunami of corporate money. The first waves rolled in the 2010 elections, but the biggest are coming this year as unregulated SuperPACs outspend official campaigns. These two decisions must rank amongst the worst the Court has ever made.
The U.S. Supreme Court has confirmed the equation of money equaling speech. In other words, net worth is net power. But are corporations people and money speech? As Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer quipped, "Corporations are people? I'll believe that when Texas executes one." Following the decision Gov. Schweitzer (D) and Lt. Gov. John Bolinger (R) have forged a bipartisan dymanic duo in support of I-166, a state ballot initiative that would specify corporations are not people and restore the ban on corporate donations in campaigns.
The federal climate bill died in 2010 for many reasons, but the biggest factor at play was the fossil fuel industry’s influence on a majority of the members of the House and Senate. With a mid-term election looming, the elected officials feeding at the oil, coal and gas industries’ troughs decided they didn’t want to risk giving up their meal tickets.
Upholding the democratic process and working for strong climate policy go hand in hand. It is time for constitutional reform dedicated to the proposition that corporations aren’t people and money isn’t speech. Will Montana’s I-166 pass Supreme Court muster? Who knows. But it is an exercise in democracy, and it is clear that democracy must now be exercised.