Bill will mirror Montana statute recently upheld by their Supreme Court banning campaign donations from corporations
January 20, 2012
PORTLAND – Rep. Jon Hinck, D-Portland, has submitted a bill to the Legislative Council to ban corporate campaign contributions to candidates for elective offices. Hinck’s bill, “An Act to Limit to Natural Persons the Right to Contribute to Political Campaigns”, mirrors language in Montana state law that was recently upheld by that state’s highest court. The Montana Supreme Court ruled that its state’s one hundred year old ban on corporate contributions was constitutional and not in conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial decision in the Citizens United case. Hinck’ measure is an “after deadline” bill which requires approval from the legislature’s leadership body before it can be printed and considered by the full legislature.
“All of us would rather see the living, breathing voters of Maine instead of faceless corporations determine the outcome of our elections,” said Hinck. “Barring corporations from making political donations helps ensure that the voices of ordinary voters are heard.”
Hinck’s bill closely tracks the Montana “Corrupt Practices Act” which was upheld by the Montana Supreme Court in a 5-2 decision issued on Dec. 30, 2011. Montana voters approved the law clearly banning corporate campaign expenditures by referendum in 1912. The law was unchallenged until the U.S. Supreme Court handed down Citizens United v. FEC which held that corporate campaign donations are subject to First Amendment protection. Jan. 21 is the two year anniversary of that decision.
“The bill language comes directly from a law upheld by a state's highest court,” said Hinck. “My bill would support the integrity of fair and clean elections in Maine and help keep the influence of big money at bay.”
The bill introduced by Hinck would ban all contributions and expenditures made by a corporation in support or opposition to a candidate or political party. It also makes it illegal for a person, candidate or political committee to accept a donation from a corporation and any violations of the law are subject to civil penalty provisions. The law does not prohibit any person who is a shareholder, employee or member of any corporation from making voluntary contributions to political campaigns and candidates.
Some of the reasons given by the Montana court to uphold their 100 year old law included the large size of the state, like Maine, which has a relatively small population and the presence of a small number of large corporations alongside many small businesses. The Montana justices argued that real people and owners of small businesses could be easily overwhelmed and effectively silenced by a handful of large in-state, or out-of-state, corporate interests.
One of the two dissenting Justices, James C. Nelson, wrote in obviously reluctant dissent, “Corporations are not persons. Human beings are persons, and it is an affront to the inviolable dignity of our species that courts have created a legal fiction which forces people — human beings — to share fundamental, natural rights with soulless creatures of government…Indeed, it is truly ironic that the death penalty and hell are reserved only to natural persons.”
Hinck’s bill must be presented to the Legislative Council, which is made up of the six Republicans and four Democrats in leadership. They will vote on whether the bill is allowed to proceed through the normal public hearing and work session process to be fully debated and discussed in the public.
Jodi Quintero [Hinck], 287-1488, c. 841-6279