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Taking Back Montana

The mighty Amalgamated Copper Mining Company, later Anaconda Copper and now a minor subsidiary of British Petroleum (ARCO) owned Montana well into the twentieth century. The Montana legislature, nearly all of it’s natural resources, labor, newspapers, railroads, all were absolutely controlled by a single corporation. The ideological heirs of the Anaconda conglomerate will meet in January at Rancho Mirage, a plush Palm Springs resort, to celebrate and divide the spoils following their purchase of the November election and their recent acquisition of the U.S. economy.

The libertarian billionaire Koch brothers host biannual meetings for their secretive brothers in bucks. The meetings have included many influential politicians such as, John McCain, Jim DeMint, Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, and Tom Coburn as well as Supreme Court justices Scalia and Thomas. You may remember these folks as directly involved in the Citizens United ruling allowing unlimited corporate influence in American elections. Major corporate interests will pony up the $1,500 registration fee for the event including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other major bankrollers of this year’s election fraud. Stated goals of the meeting include schemes ““to review strategies for combating the multitude of public policies that threaten to destroy America as we know it.”  These strategies include rolling back all social progress made in the last 100 years in order to protect the wealth of those on top. The Koch’s are most interested in rolling back any and all regulation and taxes on industry that “threaten to erode our economic freedom and transfer vast sums of money to the state.”

Corporate interests have become more savvy this time around. They managed to co-opt the Tea Party movement to give their efforts a grassroots patina and they are dumping millions of dollars on right-wing candidates and organizations. Advisors are cautioning corporate clients to keep a low profile in this year’s elections by using middlemen such as the Chamber to funnel money to friendly candidates and issues so as to not alienate customers and shareholders. One large lobbying firm puts it this way,

[G]roups of corporations within an industry may form coalitions or use existing trade associations to support candidates favorable to policy positions that affect the group as a whole. While corporations that contribute to these expenditures might still be disclosed, this indirect approach can provide sufficient cover such that no single contributing entity receives the bulk of public scrutiny.

I find it somewhat difficult to gin up sympathy for the “economic freedoms” of this billionaires club. Forbes estimates the wealth of Charles Koch at $21.5 billion. Newly disclosed tax data from the IRS shows that wealth has soared for the top 400 American households at nine times the rate for the bottom 90% of households.

Since 1992, the bottom 90 percent of Americans have seen their incomes rise by 13 percent in 2009 dollars, compared with an increase of 399 percent for the top 400.

Their effective income tax rate fell to 16.62 percent, down more than half a percentage point from 17.17 percent in 2006, the new data show. That rate is lower than the typical effective income tax rate paid by Americans with incomes in the low six figures, which is what each taxpayer in the top group earned in the first three hours of 2007.

In Montana, we caught on to the excesses of giant corporations fairly early. In 1912, we added to the Montana Constitution section 13-35-227:

Prohibited contributions from corporations. (1) A corporation may not make a contribution or an expenditure in connection with a candidate or a political committee that supports or opposes a candidate or a political party.
(2) A person, candidate, or political committee may not accept or receive a corporate contribution described in subsection.

That provision was struck down by a Helena district judge on Monday thanks to the Citizens United ruling and likely will not pass muster by a SCOTUS obviously compromised by association with interests opposed to such a ruling. The lawsuit challenging the Montana law was brought by the oil and gas-funded Western Tradition Partnership which plans to spend more than $500,000 anonymously on targeted Montana elections this year. In a presentation to possible donors, WTP said, “there’s no limit to how much you can give” and, “no politician, no bureaucrat and no radical environmentalist will ever know you helped make this program possible.

In the absence of just laws like that of Montana, small, resource-rich states like ours will once again become wholly-owned subsidiaries of large corporations. You need look no further than the recent eruption of protest over the movement of Canadian tar sands equipment on narrow mountain roads through Idaho and Montana creating a permanent mega-highway for oil corporations. Deals were already in place with state agencies and port authorities due to the dumping of millions of dollars on them before the public became aware of possible consequences. The Wall Street Journal reports that the general manager at the port in Lewiston, ID has said  “The Imperial Oil contract, he said, could really put the port on shippers’ radar screens. “Activity fosters activity,“. It’s still all about the money even after more than 100 years. The “take back our country” movement applies only to the privileged few. The rest of us will have to deal for generations with the consequences of our economy being taken back to the days of corporate rule.


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