Montana Ethic Project: ‘Citizens United’ and fair elections


Joey and Libbie Early

Gov. Steve Bullock talks about the history of corporate involvement in Montana elections.

This is the eighth chapter of the 32-part video series “The Montana Ethic Project.” This chapter features Montana Gov. Steve Bullock speaking on “Citizens United v. Montana.” When the interview was taped in 2011, Bullock was the Montana attorney general.

In that role, Bullock challenged the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision by defending Montana’s 100-year-old ban on corporate campaign expenditure. The court ruled against Montana in a 5-4 vote. You can watch the whole video below. Here is how it begins:

“Often we don’t think that a U.S. Supreme Court case can have an impact in our daily lives or political life. But there was one that was decided, just early 2010, that I think really can. It’s called Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. It started out being about a non-profit that wanted to run a television ad, pay per view, about Hillary Clinton, and whether or not they could use some of the corporate dollars to do that, or if that was electioneering and got in the way of federal law.”

Here is another, edited excerpt from Bullock’s presentation:

“When you look at what Montana is or was, it’s interesting, we can go back over a century, in 1906 in Hamilton, where a newspaper editorial said, the greatest living issue facing us today is whether the people will control the corporations or the corporations will control the people. This was in 1906, because if you look at what Montana is and was, our history, unlike any other state, was dominated by corporate control of our elections.

“Interestingly, I was in front of a U.S. Senate Committee testifying against the Citizens United ruling, and it was amazing because it was the successor committee to the same committee, the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections, that a gentleman named William Clark testified in front of. William Clark was one of Montana’s Copper Kings. He literally bought a U.S. Senate race. And at that time he was called before that committee to question whether they should keep him.

“That happened in 1888 because of the general concern of the aura of corruption throughout the state of Montana as the result of money in politics. What William Clark said even then, over a century ago, I think has equal applicability to today. He’d testified to the committee that, many people had become so indifferent to large sums of money that had been expended heretofore, that you had to do a great deal of, you know, pushing, it takes a lot of men to go around among them to get them out to vote.

“So even back in 1888, a man that had bought the U.S. election through corporations, was saying that people didn’t care anymore because there was so much money in elections.”

PERC_Logo_MontanaEthicPERC—the Property & Environment Research Center—is a proud sponsor of the Montana Ethic Project. To learn how PERC’s ideas can help us honor one another’s rights to land, water, and wildlife, visit


First week: Project introduction.

Second week: Richard Drake on “Terrorism and the Consolation of History.”

Third week: Mike Gear on “The Value of Athletics.”

Fourth week: Franke Wilmer on “Gender Equity.”

Fifth week: Gordon Brittan: “The Founding Fathers.”

Sixth week: Jim Posewitz: “Montana Sportsmen and the Hunter’s Ethic.”

Seventh week: The Rev. Jessica Crist: “Religion and Politics: Can They Co-exist?”

Eighth week: Chuck Tooley: “The Montana Character.”

Next week: Carol Williams: “The Imperative for Female Governmental Participation.”

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