A little bit of history went over the side when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Montana law that forbade corporate contributions to political parties and candidates.
The immediate upshot of the ruling was not unexpected, as the 2010 ruling in the controversial Citizens United case had suggested. That and other rulings by a conservative court have given to corporate political activity all the rights that the First Amendment gives to citizens, making federal restrictions on political activity of corporations almost impossible.
Despite the high courts ruling, Montanas Supreme Court upheld its 1912 state ban on campaign contributions from corporations. That is now struck down as well.
It is the coincidence of the century mark of the Montana law that is of historical interest. Like Louisiana a century ago, Montana was also a colony of major corporations extracting its resources to feed Americas vast new industrial empires.
Lawmakers in the state were easily corrupted by the immense power of the copper kings, the mine owners whose vast payrolls and contributions dominated the state. Mark Twain wrote of one such mining giant in 1907, U.S. Sen. William Clark, “He is said to have bought legislatures and judges as other men buy food and raiment. By his example he has so excused and so sweetened corruption that in Montana it no longer has an offensive smell.” Clark was a Democrat, by the way. In those times, it was good government groups led by Republicans who crusaded in the Progressive era against corporate influence.
In Clarks first election to the Senate, evidence of bribery was too obvious for the Senate to ignore: “While concurring in the (investigating) committee’s conclusion, two members tried to reduce the impact of the anti-Clark testimony by pointing to the unlimited sums that his rival, Marcus Daly, had invested in an effort to block Clark’s election,” says the Senate history. “That observation, however, did little more than confirm the way in which corruption totally pervaded Montana politics without exonerating Clark.” Clark resigned rather than be expelled from the Senate in 1900, but then — with his rival Daly, of Anaconda copper, having died — he returned, prompting Twains criticism.
And leading, eventually, to the 1912 ban on corporate contributions. The Montana high court sought to uphold the law for reason of Montana’s “rough contests for political and economic domination.” The corruption of the copper kings thus echoes to this day in American politics.