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Montana and Ben Cohen Stamp Money Out Of Politics

by Benjamin Foster, published

The state of Montana and Ben Cohen, of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, are making their case for campaign finance reform. Montana is engaged in an ongoing legal battle to limit campaign donations in state and local elections. Cohen is simultaneously heading the “Stamp Stampede” campaign, aimed to "Stamp Money Out of Politics." The project hopes to garner and then leverage public support for a constitutional amendment overturning Supreme Court Decisions Buckley v. Valeo (1976) and Citizen’s United (2011).

On June 25, 2012, the Supreme Court ruled on American Tradition Partnership v. Steve Bullock. The ruling rejected a Montana state law that a “corporation may not make… an expenditure in connection with a candidate or a political party.” The justices wrote:

“The question presented in this case is whether the holding of Citizens United applies to the Montana state law. There can be no serious doubt that it does.”

Since that ruling, Montana continues to test the limits of Citizens United.  The state enacted a law that imposes limits on campaign donations, but the move was challenged. The challenge reached US District Judge Charles Lovell, who ruled the law unconstitutional but provided little detail as to why:

"This court will in due course issue complete and extensive findings of fact and conclusions of law that support this order. They will be filed separately, though, so that this order can be issued before voting begins in the upcoming election."

The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Judge Lovell’s ruling based on insufficient reasoning, in turn granting a temporary stay of campaign donation limits. Judge Lovell has since provided a 38-page explanation for the ruling. Montana remains vigilant but faces an uphill battle that can only be won with bipartisan support and grassroots campaigns like the one Ben Cohen is heading, “Stamp Stampede.”

There are virtually unlimited variations of stamps offered through the campaign’s website but Cohen’s personal stamp reads, “STAMP MONEY OUT OF POLITICS. AMEND THE CONSTITUTION.” The campaign hopes to attract supporters by empowering the individual. By using the Federal Reserves average lifespan of a bill (4.8 years), details the potential of one diligent supporter:

                                       If YOU stamped for 1 year 1 bill per day would reach 300,000 in its lifespan 5 bills per day would reach 1.5 million in its lifespan 10 bills per day would reach 3 million in its lifespan

With strength in numbers, Cohen recognizes that the success of the campaign is contingent on the support of Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike.  According to the Pew Research Center, bipartisanship should not be an issue:

“…65% of those who are aware of the new rules on independent expenditures say they are having a negative effect on the 2012 presidential campaign. And among those who have heard a lot about these new campaign finance rules, 78% say the effect has been negative.”

Cohen aims to use that negative sentiment as a catalyst for mobilization. With a strong democratic base of support, Cohen would be best served to focus on the fastest growing political party in the US, independents.

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