Citizens Opposing Political Corruption
    in Montana's Elections

The Montana Corrupt Practices Act

It's a delicate balancing act to pit freedom of speech against fair and honest elections. However, Montana can lead the nation in finding a way to make the improbable possible.

Following are four stories that prove the adage that "Truth is Stranger than Fiction"

Why Did the 1912 Initiatives Pass?   Story 1

In 1911, the Montana Legislature, under corporate control, expanded the state militia to protect the property of the mining companies. The original 12-page law was now 62 pages.  The law adopted European military design with counties providing armories and military supplies at their own expense.

Every able-bodied man between 18 and 45 could be called up and serve up to three years. This included men who were not U.S. citizens or who could not speak or read English.  Those exempt were criminals, lunatics, idiots or those in government positions.  

If the call to arms went out and a man delayed to respond more than 24 hours, he was a deserter and dealt with under the Articles of War of the U.S. Army. If a doctor provided the deserter with a false certificate of disability, the doctor would permanently lose his license to practice.

The Governor could call out the reserve for major breaches of the peace, but a mayor or sheriff could make a call to handle a mob or rowdy citizens.  For the privilege of taking up arms when called, the workingman paid a new tax to cover the expansion of the militia act.

There were some bright spots for the conscripted.  He had the "right of way" as he traveled.  If anyone "annoyed or molested" him, they would be arrested.  If he did damage to the life, limb or property of another, he could not be prosecuted.  If the Vigilantes were still about, they could not pursue and hang a marauding gang of militia men.

Montana citizens hated the new law and the new tax.  Counties objected to the obligation to build and equip armories.  People eagerly signed petitions to put the new law to a vote. The People's Power League carried petitions and advocated the repeal.

"(L)aw abiding citizens of the state who pay taxes and don’t need military protection must pay a tax to protect Amalgamated Copper that never kept a law it could break or paid a cent of taxes it could evade."

          Kalispell Bee  (April 11, 1911)

"Among the new military powers that loom upon the world horizon and must be reckoned with in future international relations is our own home state of Montana. With military laws as exacting as those of Germany and Russia she aspires to a place in the galaxy of world powers."

           Miles Romney, Western News  (June 20,1911)

M.M. Donoghue, President, and O.M. Partelow, Secretary, of the State Federation of Labor of Montana reported the following in the American Federalist (1913, Vol. 20, Page 757)

"Some two years ago the unions and individual members thereof united with other individuals in the formation of the People's Power League, the object being to secure by direct legislation some of the enactments deemed beneficial to the workers of the State. By the union of forces under the People's Power League, the State Federation of Labor aided by many of the members of all political parties initiated and put to a referendum of the voters of the State a Direct Primary law, a Corrupt Practices act, a Preferential Selection of Presidential Electors law, and a law instructing Representatives on the selection of United States Senators. These four initiative measures were all approved by the people."

The labor organizations also demanded that the most obnoxious military law ever enacted in the West be put to a referendum.

"This measure was enacted at a previous session of the Legislature over the protests of the entire State labor movement. Thereafter we circulated petitions demanding a referendum, secured sufficient signatures, and entered on a vigorous campaign for its defeat. We published our argument against the enactment, printed sample ballots to aid the voter in voting, had moving picture slides made and displayed in the many theaters throughout the State, illustrating the ballot and instructing how to vote. At the polls we rejected the law as passed by a vote of four to one."

Why Did the 1912 Initiatives Pass?   Story 2

A bill in equity was filed by representatives of the legal department of the national government in federal court at Helena which was of interest and importance to the people of Montana, seeking remedy for injuries to vegetation and trees on government lands from poisons precipitated by smoke from the Anaconda Copper Mining Company's Anaconda smelter. It is an outgrowth of investigation instituted by President Roosevelt, on motion of farmers in the Deer Lodge Valley. The agents of the copper combine manipulated public officials and public sentiment to have the case thrown out.

The special assistant to the U.S. attorney general, Ligon Johnston had previously brought a similar suit in the State of Georgia versus Tennessee Copper Company. The U.S. Supreme Court decided that case against the mining company. The case against the copper combine in Montana was not prosecuted. There was no verdict. (Now how could that be?)

In May, 1911, Attorney General Wickersham, entered into a stipulation with the Anaconda Copper Company whereby the government would drop prosecution for damages to public forests or lands from smelter fumes if the company would operate its smelters to meet the approval of a board of three mining experts whose salaries would be paid by the company.  (The three mining experts allowed the pollutants to flow from the stacks and gave the nation its largest Super Fund Site.  Tax dollars are still being spent on clean up.)
  J.C. Murphy, Montana Lookout  (March 19, 1910)

Why Did the 1912 Initiatives Pass?   Story 3

    During the 1911 Legislative Session, Senator William Meyer was approached by a lobbyist for the Amalgamated Copper Company, John G. Morony.   Morony asked Senator Meyer to support a little local bill that was important to the company.
    "Well, Johnnie, I am with you upon any matter in which I can conscientiously assist you. What is the proposition?"
    "Well, it is a bill to give us the right to secure some water power from northern Montana."
    Morony outlined the details of the measure, whereupon Senator Meyer said: "Morony, I cannot give you my support for that measure."
    The matter was dropped for the time, but a little later Morony met Senator Meyer in a hotel. He approached the Carbon County Senator with, "Meyer, will you support that measure?"
    "No, sir; I will not."
    "Senator Meyer, I will give you another chance. You go to the senate and vote against the bill, if you must, but keep your mouth shut. Will you do that?"
    "Now, Johnnie, you know I would not sit down and say nothing on that bill."
    "Say, Bill Meyer! I'll give you just one more chance.  Manage not to be present in the senate when the vote is taken."
    "Mr. Morony, I will be in the senate chamber, in my seat, voting."
    The corporate boss became very angry, swung his arms, shook his fists and proclaimed so that all of those nearby might hear: "Bill Meyer, if you vote against that bill I will camp on your trail the rest of my life, and I will get you."
    Senator Meyer was not intimidated. He spoke on the bill.

"What is this bill? It is simply a proposition whereby one corporation can control the whole state, body and soul. ... Every business interest in this state will be jeopardized.  It will apply to foreign as well as domestic corporations."
Senator Wm. Meyer, Speech opposing HB 160 on February 27, Montana Legislature, reported by Western News  (March 3, 1909)
"It was six months later when the first comprehensive use of this little local law by corporate management was brought to public knowledge. The well-regulated trust was dead, long live the holding company."
    J.C. Murphy, Montana Lookout  (March 19, 1910)

    Mr. Meyer decided to run for Congress in 1912. His campaign took him to Butte where he became ill. He never returned home and died at the age of 55.

    Carbon County Journal  (October 25, 1912)

Why Did the 1912 Initiatives Pass?   Story 4

"It is concisely exact to state that every daily paper published in Butte, Anaconda, Helena, Great Falls, Billings, and Missoula (with the single exception of The Missoulian, published by United States Senator Dixon), was subject in policy to the control and influence of copper combine management or agencies when the campaign opened in 1912. This list included every daily paper in the state having more than a purely local circulation, and did not include the local dailies subject to the same influence. Similar conditions obtain in the conduct of the majority of weekly papers.

In those localities where the combine did not have mines, or smelters, or saw mills, or company stores, or public utility enterprises, with patronage to bestow, it had banking connections, attorneys, and political protégés, with power over merchants or command over city and county printing. Where all these resources failed, there remained the power of direction of the expenditure of large campaign funds, collected to great extent from combine coffers and agencies, and dispersed by campaign managers selected by combine bosses, with affable manners and accommodating disposition as well as abundant resources to negotiate loans for the relief of struggling publishers.

The possibilities in this one branch of newspaper direction and the precarious position of the average publisher in a new state under combine control is indicated by the fact that in 1909 a carefully compiled list showed less than 120 newspaper publications in the state, while two years later no less than fifty of these had suspended publication or changed nominal ownership and control ; this record being almost the only tribute to honest editors who 'hewed to the line', letting the chattel mortgages fall where they might."

  J. C. Murphy, The Comical History of Montana,  Scofield 1912

The Corrupt Practices Act, 1912, State of Montana, as it pertains to corporations:

Section 25.  No corporation, and no person, trustee, or trustees owning or holding the majority of the stock of a corporation carrying on the business of a bank, savings bank, cooperative bank, trust, trustees, surety, indemnity, safe deposit, insurance, railroad, street railway, telegraph, telephone, gas, electric light, heat, power, canal, aqueduct, water, cemetery, or crematory company, or any company having the right to take or condemn land or exercise franchise in public ways granted by the state or by any county, city or town, shall pay or contribute in order to aid, promote or prevent the nomination or election of any person, or in order to aid or promote the interests, success or defeat of any political party or organization. No person shall solicit or receive such payment of contribution from such corporation or such holder of a majority of such stock.

Section 50. In like manner as prescribed for the contesting of an election, any corporation organized under the laws of or doing business in the state of Montana may be brought into court on the ground of deliberate, serious and material violation of the provisions of this act. The petition shall be filed in the district court in the county where said corporation has its principal office, or where the violation of law is averred to have been committed. The court, upon conviction of such corporation, may impose a fine of not more than ten thousand dollars, or may declare a forfeiture of the charter and franchises of the corporation if organized under the laws of this state, or if it be a foreign corporation may enjoin said corporation from further transacting business in this state, or by both such fine and forfeiture or by both such fine and injunction.


A BILL to propose by initiative a law to instruct the members of the legislative assembly to vote for and elect the candidates selected by the people for United States senator from Montana.


Section I.  That we, the people of the state of Montana, hereby instruct our representatives and senators in our legislative assembly, as such officers, to vote for and elect the candidates for United States Senator from this state who receive the highest number of votes at our general elections.

    "Laws Initiated and Passed by the People," Public Laws of the State of Montana 1913, p 617

"With the state almost evenly divided between the two principal political parties, this corporation (the Amalgamated Copper Company) has had small difficulty in holding a balance of power by control of votes in the industrial centers where its interests dominated."

     J.C. Murphy, 1911

"Our people have no faith in a benevolent despotism. They know that power tends to abuse. A corporation large enough to engross an industry cannot be trusted to a generous or even a just use of its mastery... Recent disclosures show that greed has not changed its nature and still grows by what it feeds upon. The complete absorption of a rival is not beyond its capacity, and the crumbs of a false balance are not beneath its covetousness."

    Frederick W. Lehman, President of the American Bar Association, 1909

"The Montana Senatorial sweepstakes are still open for entry. So far the favorite in the betting is the consistent runner, Edwin L. Norris. The entry is from the Ryan and Morony stables and his colors will be copper and long green."

    Bruce Wells, Stevensville Register, (November 1910)

"Like other towns of its size, Anaconda has good, patriotic, God-fearing people as can be found anywhere; but in every rank and in all walks of life, “from cradle to grave”, they are creatures of servitude and workers for profit to nonresident speculators, or else under the ban and boycott of the power which asserts itself in control of every branch of industry, of social life, and of political or civic activity. Anaconda is “The City of Whispers” because it is not well to speak aloud with other words than those which echo the will and pleasure and policy of the corporate bosses filtered through the descending ranks of the monopoly organization from the headquarters in New York."

    Montana Lookout  (April 1910)

"The evil to the state came through the adoption and toleration of corrupt methods in the conduct of public affairs and in the settlement of public questions. The agencies were created, the political tools were made and perfected, ready for use in the later operations prosecuted between great corporations through simple greed of gain, which finally made the commonwealth an asset of private interests in very large part, and made of the state first a rotten borough, and then a mere province, subject to an oligarchy composed of New York stock gamblers and industrial pirates."

    J. C. Murphy, The Comical History of Montana, (Scofield 1912)

"What is this bill?  It is simply a proposition whereby one corporation can control the whole state, body and soul. ... Every business interest in this state will be jeopardized.  It will apply to foreign as well as domestic corporations."

     Senator Wm. Meyer, speech in the Montana Legislature opposing passage of House Bill 160 on February 27, 1909

"I refer more especially to corporate interests which have spared no effort that ingenuity could suggest, nor mendacity inspire, to impugn the motives which have governed my conduct, both in my private life and in the discharge of my official duties."

    Judge E. K. Cheadle, letter to U.S. Senator Joseph Dixon, Lewistown, MT, January 22, 1912 withdrawing his nomination for US District Judge.

"They’ll try to do to me just what they have done to everyone who ever tried to oppose them... They own the state. They own the press.... First I’ll be roasted from one end of the State to the other. Every newspaper will print my shortcomings, real or fancied, in the largest type. They probably won’t assassinate me. They use more subtle methods now... If the Anaconda Company prevents my ever returning to Congress, I’ll at least have the satisfaction of having done what I could for my constituents while I was here."

    U.S. Representative Jannette Rankin, August 8, 1917

"Montana is a fat little heifer, milked by outside corporation thieves. The express companies have one teat, the railroads another, the fire insurance companies another, the oil companies another--with many more standing round to finish up the job."

     Forsyth Times Journal  (January 1910)

"With the initiative and referendum, Montanans felt they had a weapon powerful enough to put all corporations out of politics both now and for all the years to come."

     R.N. Sutherlin, Rocky Mountain Husbandman  (June 1904)

"Therefore the Court declares that Section 13-35-227(1), MCA, as it pertains to independent corporate expenditures, is unconstitutional and unenforceable due to the operation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution."

    District Judge Jeffrey M. Sherlock, 2010

"The First Amendment now means that, without limitation, money talks... While I to some extent agree with the 'living document' concept of necessarily applying the Constitution to the times, it is unfathomable to me how the Constitution’s drafters, in some God-like fashion, are interpreted to have created life in corporations,..."

     Bob Brown served as Montana State Senate President, Secretary of State, and senior fellow at the University of Montana’s Maureen & Mike Mansfield Center. Article published in the Missoulian (February 15, 2010) "State Corporate Campaign Law in peril."