Civil and Human Rights

Court Bop(p)s Campaign Finance Ploy

Earlier today, the Supreme Court made short work of an attempt by conservative activists to throw the nation’s system of campaign finance regulation into further disarray on the eve of the 2012 election.

As Rick Hasen reported, anti-campaign finance crusader Jim Bopp had attempted to seize another opportunity to try to push the boundaries of Citizens United v. FEC just 13 days before the election.  Unlike Citizens United, which dealt with limits on independent political expenditures, Bopp’s new case, Lair v. Bullock, involved limits on direct contributions to candidates, which the Supreme Court has thus far upheld, even after Citizens United.   Representing a coalition of conservative groups with interests in Montana’s elections, Bopp requested that the U.S. Supreme Court intervene and lift a stay issued by the Ninth Circuit of a district court injunction that would have completely lifted the state’s caps on campaign contributions.  

The Supreme Court, fortunately, did not disturb the Ninth Circuit’s decision to issue the stay and prevent an eleventh-hour shake-up of Montana’s campaign finance landscape. In an opinion by prominent conservative Judge Jay Bybee (of Bybee Memo fame,) the Ninth Circuit wrote, “In light of Montana’s interest in regulating campaign contributions, the lack of evidence that other parties will be substantially injured, and the public’s substantial interest in the stability of its electoral system in the final weeks leading to an election, we will stay the order pending the state’s appeal.”

And indeed, even the most cynical observers would have had to balk at the Wild West of election spending that could have ensued if the Supreme Court had entertained Bopp’s request with just 13 days to go. Earlier this fall, more than half a million dollars in campaign contributions squeaked into the state during the short, six-day gap between the district court’s decision and the Ninth Circuit’s stay. (Ironically, the conservative group that took the lead in the case appears to have obtained its tax-exempt status by stating that it would not be attempting to sway elections, according to ProPublica.)

The Ninth Circuit will now have to consider the merits of Bopp’s appeal itself. If the most recent shenanigans in Montana are any indication, it should be an important case to watch—fortunately, after this election cycle.

For more on the constitutional case against Citizens United and corporate personhood, see Constitutional Accountability Center’s Constitution at a Crossroads and A Capitalist Joker: Corporations, Corporate Personhood, and the Constitution.



Photo credit: flickr/gageskidmore

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