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Voters will decide if corporations have constitutional rights

By Kevin Maki, KECI Reporter, kmaki@keci.com
Published On: Oct 12 2012 06:56:56 PM MDT
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MISSOULA, Mont. -

One of the more polarizing initiatives on the Montana ballot in November is Initiative 166.

It seeks to establish a state policy that corporations are not entitled to constitutional rights because they're not human beings.

It demands Montana's state and federal elected and appointed officials implement that policy.

Supporters of I-166 want to strike down a U.S. Supreme Court decision giving corporations unlimited spending on political campaigns.

If passed, the state's congressional delegation would work for a constitutional amendment to reverse the court decision.

Missoula's C.B. Pearson's group, Stand With Montanans,spearheaded I-166.

Pearson said Montanans learned first hand about unlimited corporate spending 100 years ago, when the Anaconda Company owned Montana.

"The problem with corporations in particular is that they accumulate wealth," said Pearson." They live forever. Now they can spend from the corporate checkbook to influence the outcome of an election."

Helena Republican Senator Dave Lewis was a plaintiff in an unsuccessful attempt to remove I-166 from the ballot.

Lewis said, asking Montana's congressional delegation" to change the U,S. Constitution is a long shot, and a waste of time."

Opponents of the measure said corporations may not be people, but they are made up of people.

Missoula attorney Quentin Rhoades said, "the reason that we have corporations is so that people can voluntarily associate with one another to pursue the same ends. Like minded people with similar interests, " said Rhoades, " it's free association, the quintessential liberty."

Supporters said I-166 would put the election process on a more level playing field.

Opponents said it would inhibit free speech.

Missoula small business owner Aimee MCQuilkin supports I-166.

She thinks the initiative would be good for small business.

Supporters, like the downtown Missoula clothing store owner, say limitless, often untraceable, corporate dollars are buying elections, and with the court's green light it will only get worse.

"My voice as, one, a citizen of the United States," said McQuilkin, and two, as a small business cannot possibly compete for being heard against large corporations.

But opponents said I-166 inhibits free speech.