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Montana employers should have free speech

 

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Should Montanans be threatened with prosecution for expressing political opinions in an unapproved manner? Helena's entitled political establishment says yes. While the ability to speak freely about political candidates is one of our nation's founding principles, for a select few this type of speech is strictly forbidden, regardless of whether the speech is in support of or in opposition to a political candidate. But one small business owner and a grassroots citizens' group are working to change that. With rising spending, taxes and regulation threatening his business, Champion Painting owner Ken Champion would like to use his business' financial resources to educate voters about the impacts candidates will have on small Montana businesses. He believes this type of speech is protected under the Montana and United States Constitutions. But a Montana statute prohibits his business from spending "corporate" funds to support or oppose a candidate or a political party unless his business goes through a complicated, confusing, timeconsuming and sometimes expensive process to get state permission to establish a "segregated fund." Western Tradition Partnership, a grassroots citizens' group, would also like to educate voters about particular candidates and how the candidates' agendas attack or support Montanans' property and prosperity. But once again, Montana law prohibits WTP from making expenditures in support or opposition of candidates. Ken and WTP's grassroots-based members are taking their case to court, arguing the Montana Constitution and the First Amendment protect the political speech they want to make. The case does not seek to overturn the ban on employers making contributions to candidates. It is simply about letting small businesses and grassroots organizations engage in the same type of speech unions, trade associations, the media and other non-corporate groups are allowed to make, without fear of prosecution. The only fair solution is to repeal anticorporate speech laws crafted by almost one hundred years ago in a different political environment and maintained by Helena's entrenched political establishment. In fact, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court recently ruled a similar federal law banning independent corporate expenditures in support of or in opposition to a candidate violates the First Amendment. Montana's bureaucrats are not exempt from the Montana or United States Constitutions. Montana's ban on corporate expenditures supporting or opposing candidates is unconstitutional. It's time to change the law. It's time to level the playing field and allow small employers to speak freely and protect their businesses. Montana's hard-working employers like Ken Champion have one simple request: Stop taxing and regulating me out of business, or at least allow me to freely about speak about it. Anything else is un-American. (Donny Ferguson is Western Tradition Partnership's national director of media and public relations.)

 
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