To the editor:
The recent, intense, grassroots effort to overturn the Citizens United campaign finance ruling grows out of a long history of anti-corruption efforts in our country.
These efforts have always been vigorously opposed by powerful interests, and today they are framing their opposition by claiming this is a “blue state” issue, a left-wing issue, that advocates want special privileges for unions, and so on. This claim that just blue states, lefties and unions want clean, honest elections is flat out wrong and has always been wrong.
Since 1912, the leader of clean government and elections has been “red state” Montana. In 2012, Montana voted in favor Republican Romney by 55 percent to Democratic Obama’s 41 percent. Romney won by a landslide, and, in fact Montana regularly favors the Republican candidate for president. Even so, in 2012, Montana voted for Initiative 166 to repeal Citizens United by an overwhelming 75 percent of the vote.
Why did this happen? Why Montana?
In 1911, the Amalgamated Copper Co., which controlled the Montana legislature, passed a law that strengthened the militia by calling up men between the ages of 18 to 45 to protect its property. These men were also required to pay a tax to provide this extra military protection for the property of that company.
The law was hated, and the reaction against it across Montana was electric. Animosity towards politicians, journalists — everyone in Montana perceived as being influenced by the copper companies — grew and people said those on the company’s side wore a “copper collar.”
The opposition to the copper companies and their copper collars crystallized into a group called the Peoples’ Power League. The very next year, the League succeeded in passing the epochal anti-corruption law called the Corrupt Practices Act of 1912.
Could this happen again? Are we becoming a sordid plutocracy? Are we already a sordid plutocracy?
Since the economic meltdown of 2008, the nation has witnessed corporate evasion of moral and legal responsibility for the debacle, outrageous executive pay increases, billions for bailouts galore, and the use of concentrated corporate power to fight every move Congress has made to reform the corporate practices that caused such long and profound suffering to millions of Americans.
One of the ways they fight is by pumping big money into political campaigns.
Citizens United has expedited this by allowing big money to be given and given in secrecy. Citizens United also overturned Montana’s Corrupt Practices Act of 1912, and a century of such laws across our country.
All of us — Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, independents — love our country and our democracy. There is a deep hunger in the country for bipartisan partnership to work on our country’s problems. We can do so from a position of strength when the integrity of our democratic process is above reproach. Unfortunately, the hundreds of millions spent in the recent election provokes reproach.
We now realize, like the people of Montana in 1912, that we have the key to unlock the collar. Jan. 21 is the third anniversary of Citizens United. Let’s give our country a third anniversary present and overturn Citizens United by amending the Constitution.
It is time to cast off the “copper collar”!
MICHAEL D. O’CONNOR