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Experts: MT’s “Copper Collar” Days Could Return

March 8, 2010

HELENA, Mont. - The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the "Citizens United" case could have implications for Montana's local and state elections this year, and experts are gathering this week in Helena to talk about the "what ifs." The court's ruling allows corporations to spend unlimited money in federal elections. Montana has a law against that for state elections, and the court's action is seen by many as a precedent that could unravel that state law.

Theresa Keaveny, executive director of Montana Conservation Voters, says there are valid concerns about a return of the "copper collar" days of corporate power overwhelming state politics.

"Anaconda Copper Co. was able to determine who our elected officials would be. Montanans stood up against that a century ago, and we are concerned that we not go back to those days."

The panel is being hosted by Montana Conservation Voters. Experts scrutinizing the implications include Montana Solicitor Anthony Johnstone.

Denise Roth Barber with the Institute on Money in State Politics is also on the panel. She says Montana already knows how much big companies will spend when there are no limits. She cites the spending on the 2004 initiative against open-pit cyanide leach mining as an example.

"Canyon Resources contributed more than $3.78 million - nearly twice the money raised by all candidates running for the entire legislature and the governor races."

The Supreme Court ruled corporations could use unlimited money as a matter of free speech.

The panel will convene at the Shrine Temple, Helena, on Friday, March 12, at 1:30 p.m.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - MT