Top court urged to undo Montana campaign money ban

WASHINGTON Fri Feb 10, 2012 5:39pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Corporations and a political advocacy group asked the Supreme Court on Friday to allow them to spend freely before Montana's 2012 elections, citing the court's major campaign finance ruling two years ago.

The three plaintiffs asked the justices to first put on hold and then ultimately overturn a decision by the Montana Supreme Court in December that upheld a century-old state law banning independent corporate campaign spending.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said the Montana decision contradicted the Supreme Court's ruling that gave corporations the constitutional free-speech right to spend freely to support or oppose candidates for federal office.

James Bopp, lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the Montana case, expressed confidence the Supreme Court will overturn the ruling, based on its decision in the case known as Citizens United.

"Unequivocally, Citizens United means that corporate independent expenditure bans are invalid under the United States Constitution. The Montana Supreme Court has shirked its responsibility to follow that decision and the United States Supreme Court should reverse their ruling," he said.

The Montana Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision two years ago did not control the outcome because the Montana law was different and justified by the state's interest in preventing corporate corruption and influence in politics.

The plaintiffs filed their lawsuit challenging Montana's law just a few months after the Supreme Court's ruling.

They said they want to use corporate funds to communicate to voters which candidates they support and oppose in the run-up to this year's elections. The state's primary elections are scheduled for June 5 and general elections are set for early November.

The Supreme Court case is American Tradition Partnership v. Attorney General of Montana, No. 11-A762.

(Reporting By James Vicini)

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