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Newly-Emancipated Corporations Seek their Rightful Place in Government

Steve Puma | Friday February 5th, 2010 | 0 Comments

I’m a huge fan of science-fiction movies with dystopian futures, such as Blade Runner, Minority Report, Children of Men, or my favorite, Idiocracy. In most of these stories, the villain is an very powerful entity or its minions, and power-hungry corporate conglomerates are, more often than not, the driving force for evil. These stories have always served as cautionary tales, intended to help us see the dangers before they actually manifest themselves in real life. I’m sure that many of us living in the early 21st century find the idea of these dystopian futures actually coming true about as absurd as believing in Santa Claus (although history would certainly prove us wrong)

This absurdity is probably why the real headlines surrounding the Supreme Court Decision to expand Constitutional rights for corporations are almost indistinguishable from their comedic and satirical counterparts. Case in point: in the same 24-hour period, The Onion published the short story: Supreme Court Allows Corporations To Run For Political Office, and Miller-McCune published Office Seeks Higher Office. While The Onion story was satirical, the Miller-McCune article was not: Public relations company Murray Hill is planning to run in the Republican primary for Maryland’s 8th District.

In a previous article, How Will the Citizens United Decision Affect Sustainable Business?, I explored the legal history of “corporate personhood,” and how the right to run for office, and other expanded Constitutional rights for corporations, are inevitable consequences of granting corporations equal protection under the 14th Amendment. I also voiced my hope that this most recent Supreme Court decision could provide the stage upon which the corporate personhood doctrine could be revealed as the evil villain it really is.

The decision that a corporation is a person, if you take it to its logical conclusion, can lead to all kinds of absurd outcomes, such as corporations being allowed to form private armies or militias, or being granted the right to vote. In some cases, this has already happened, such as the right for a corporation, with relatively unlimited resources, to sue private individuals, or the requirement for probable cause, allowing corporations to effectively circumvent government regulation.

The thing is, while Corporations benefit from many rights, they share none of the responsibilities, and face none of the consequences, of living, breathing, citizens. They are not required to register for the draft, nor fight for their country; they are not required to serve on a jury. Even though their actions can kill thousands of people, they cannot be put in jail, nor can they face they death penalty.

According to the Slate.com article, Money Isn’t Speech and Corporations Aren’t People, while the Supreme Court has granted rights to corporations under the rubric of equality for all persons, wealthy people and corporations tend to be “more equal” than everyone else. Of course, the most blatant example of this is the “money is speech” principle: those with more money get more speech, by definition. From the article:

…the conservative justices who had emphatically embraced the money-is-speech principle didn’t apply it to money solicited by speakers of ordinary means. For example, the court limited the First Amendment rights of Hare Krishna leafleters soliciting donations in airports to support their own leafleting. The leafleting drew no money-is-speech analysis. To the contrary, the conservative justices, led by Chief Justice Rehnquist, found that by asking for money for leafleting—their form of speech—the Hare Krishnas were being “disruptive” and posing an “inconvenience” to others. In other words, in the court’s view, some people’s money is speech; others’ money is annoying. And the conservative justices have raised no objection to other limits on the quantity of speech, such as limits on the number of picketers.

The Slate article also goes on to point out that, although they all may be “corporations” on paper, there is a big difference between business corporations and clubs or political associations with “political viewpoints and elected leaders.”:

…corporate managers don’t function as representatives or employees of shareholders, who have no say, no shared political views, and no expectation that their investments will be used for political ends. In the wake of the court’s ruling this week, will some corporations pick a party or politics while others channel unheard of amounts of money to both major parties? Will investors be influenced by a corporation’s political portfolio?

It is very encouraging to hear this kind of discussion on the inconsistencies in the law as it applies to corporations vs. individual citizens. However, it is very alarming how little the general public seems to care when it comes to corporations and constitutional rights rights. It’s almost as if the concept is too absurd to even be considered a real problem. Just consider the following two quotes:

  • Regarding the candidacy of Murray Hill: “Until now,” the company declared in its press release, “corporate interests had to rely on campaign contributions and influence peddling to achieve their goals in Washington. But thanks to an enlightened Supreme Court, now we can eliminate the middleman and run for office ourselves.”
  • From the Onion Article:Couching its candidacy as a matter of inevitable barrier-breaking, the company adds: “We’re saying to Wal-Mart, AIG and Pfizer, if not you, who? If not now, when?”

Does the first, which is a real story, seem any less absurd than the second? Even worse, how come so few of us care? I’m sure that if this was a discussion about granting rights to dolphins, or pets, or apes, there would be public outrage, even though, as citizens, we would loose nothing by doing so.

For some reason, when it comes to the corporations with great power and influence over our lives, we are willing to give them a free pass. Why is that? What do you think?

Resources:

Corporation Seeks Bid for House Seat

RIAA, MPAA and US Chamber of Commerce declare war on blind and disabled people

Murray Hill Incorporated is Running for Congress

Money Isn’t Speech and Corporations Aren’t People

Dirty Secrets: The Corporations’ Campaign for an Environmental Audit Privilege

Supreme Court Allows Corporations To Run For Political Office (TheOnion)

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Steve Puma is a sustainability and technology consultant. He currently writes for 3p as well as on his personal blog, ThePumaBlog, about the intersection of sustainability, technology, innovation, and the future. Steve holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School and a BA in Computer Science from Rutgers University. You can contact Steve through email or LinkedIn, or follow him on twitter.


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