Judges dropped ball

Great Falls Tribune

by Senator Jon Tester

The U.S. Supreme Court is filled with men and women with Ivy League degrees. They’ve studied law, politics and history.

I’m beginning to think they skipped the chapter on William Clark and Montana’s Copper Kings.

This week, the court continued its assault on decades worth of law aimed at ensuring the American people – not the wealthy few – decide our elections. In a controversial decision, the court overturned limits on overall contributions to political candidates and party committees.

In Montana, we called for fair elections more than 100 years ago. In the early 1900s, wealthy Montana mining corporations – led by men like Clark – bought influence and even a U.S. Senate seat. In response, Montana’s forefathers voted to limit corporate influence in elections.

Despite all the advanced degrees and years of experience on the court, a majority of justices don’t seem to understand the corrosive history of money in politics.

Make no mistake: this week’s decision is another setback for our democracy.

In an era where corporations are people, this decision further empowers a select few at the expense of working folks.

More money in politics doesn’t just mean more ads come election season. More money also means more influence over lawmakers once they take office.

I’ve seen both firsthand. In 2012, two years after the Supreme Court opened the floodgates with Citizens United, outside groups flooded America’s airwaves with millions of dollars of misleading political ads.

In Washington, I’ve seen colleagues hesitate to introduce legislation popular in their home states because they knew it would spur big-moneyed outside groups to spend millions to defeat them in their next election.

It’s a classic case of the 1 percent dictating the lives of the 99 percent. And it’s a classic case of the folks who write checks getting a seat at the table while regular folks get shut out.

In 2012, Montanans stood up once again to big-money and its influence over our democratic system. In a voter referendum that passed by a 3 to 1 margin, you called on Montana’s Congressional delegation to introduce a Constitutional Amendment overturning the Citizens United decision. I am proud to say I met this challenge.

I will keep fighting for my amendment, but it’s clear we must tackle this problem from all angles.

That’s why I’ve introduced legislation to require Senate candidates to electronically file their campaign finance reports.

Believe it or not, Senate candidates still file their reports on paper, preventing Americans from seeing who is backing their campaigns for months – even until after Election Day.

From our debt and deficit to our national security, our nation is grappling with too many tough issues to let a select few tell us how to live our lives. We simply cannot let good policy fall victim to the agendas of multimillionaires.

I will continue to be your ally in our fight for good, honest and transparent government.

You elected me in 2006 to clean up Washington – to make it “look a little more like Montana.” Over the last eight years, I’ve done my best to bring more Montana common sense to the Senate.

But with the Supreme Court determined to return modern-day Copper Kings to power, we need to continue telling the court and the one percent that we won’t let our government be sold to the highest bidder.

Democrat Jon Tester is Montana’s senior U.S. senator, elected in 2006 and 2012.