Citizens United: Missoula group pushes for reversal of High Court ruling

Sue Kirchmyer

On the 10th anniversary of Citizens United, a steadfast group of volunteers attended Missoula City Council on Monday night to back a proclamation supporting a constitutional amendment they hope will overturn Citizens United.

Sue Kirchmyer, chairwoman of the Missoula chapter of Montanans to Amend, spoke after hearing Council President Bryan von Lossberg read the proclamation, “We the People.”

The group continued its fight against the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling stating that corporations are people. The ruling overturned the nation’s ban on certain corporate expenditures to political candidates.

In other words, the historical decision allows politicians to hide certain campaign contributions – known in opponents’ circles as “dark money” because of the secrecy surrounding the financial sources.

In 2011, Missoula was the first town in Montana to pass a referendum stating that “human beings, not corporations, are people.” The following year, the city of Hot Springs followed suit.

“We’re standing on the shoulders of the initiative that was passed by Missoula voters first by 75 percent, then the following year a statewide initiative passed by 75 percent,” said Kirchmyer.

Kirchmyer said while 75% of Montana voters passed Initiative 166 in 2012 during the general election, more work is needed to convince state and congressional politicians that corporations are not entitled to constitutional rights because they are not human beings.

The I-166 measure, which the group Stand with Montanans proposed, determined state policy on prohibiting corporate contributions and expenditures in state and national elections.

“This is a big endeavor under the Constitution and we think it will take constant vigilance,” said Kirchmyer. “We are working, in reality, for a call for an amendment that corporations aren’t people and should not have rights under the constitution, and that money is speech.”

While the members of Missoula Moves to Amend believe the push to overturn Citizens United began as a progressive cause, it has since become a bipartisan effort. To make their case, they noted the passage of the Montana Disclose Act in 2015.

The act requires all groups to disclose their donors if they spend money on electoral communications that either mention or target a candidate 60 days from an election.

“It’s expected that corporations will overtake over time democracies,” said Kirchmyer. “We already have 75 percent of the people and our job is to keep people aware.”

The proclamation is an annual event, but Kirchmyer said it’s vital to continue to fight due to various court cases that have come to light in the past decade in support of Citizens United.

“It’s a long road,” she said. “The Supreme Court can change the ground rules.”

The local and statewide support encourages advocates.

On Jan. 21 – the official anniversary date – the group meets with Sen. Jon Tester’s representatives at his local office to discuss his sponsorship of a companion bill supporting the amendment to overturn Citizens United.

“We do want to have a substantial conversation,” she added. “Sen. Tester has taken a very strong stand on personhood; he has introduced an amendment that says corporations should not have constitutional rights, but we would also like him to co-sponsor our Montanans Move to Amendment.”

On Feb. 13, the group meets for a Follow the Money in Health Care forum in the Gallagher Business School on the University of Montana campus. The forum is open to the public.

“It’s the 10th anniversary – and we really want to show them (pro-Citizens United factions) the momentum we have this year,” said Kirchmyer.