Close to two dozen attorneys general also signed on to support the amicus brief filed by Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock, thanks in part to a lobbying campaign by the progressive group Democracy for America. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the conservative group Citizens United, which was at the heart of the high court’s 2010 ruling, filed briefs in support of the corporations challenging the Montana ban.
Reform advocates acknowledge that if the high court opts to hear and argue the Montana case, there’s no guarantee the justices will reconsider Citizens United.
When the high court issued its stay of the state Supreme Court ruling, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer issued a statement suggesting that the court should seize the opportunity to consider whether the massive political spending unleashed by Citizens United “should continue to hold sway.”
But few expect a wholesale reversal by a court that conservatives still dominate. Even if the court rejects the Montana spending ban, however, it will help activists make the public case for a constitutional amendment to reverse the Citizens United ruling, said John Bonifaz, co-founder and director of the pro-reform group Free Speech for People.
“Obviously, it’s our hope that the court does the right thing and reverses Citizens United,” Bonifaz said. “But if they don’t, it’s going to further the call for a constitutional amendment.”
If the court does take up the Montana challenge for full argument, Bonifaz predicted, the case will become a magnet for still more amicus briefs and lobbying. Reform advocates argue that the billions raised and spent by often- undisclosed corporate interests in the 2012 elections have stirred public anger, and furnished evidence that Citizens United is not playing out as the high court anticipated.
But the ruling’s defenders argue that campaigns are more robust and competitive than ever. If anything, big spending by billionaire-backed outside groups and super PACs has fueled conservative calls for further deregulation. GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney has argued that the solution is to lift the restrictions on direct campaign contributions, so candidates can raise and spend unlimited money.
It’s the kind of argument that Hasen, for one, warns many on the high court may find appealing.
“It’s not costless to urge the court to hear the case completely,” he warned.