Corporate personhood should be our prime target

February 6, 2017
John Colson

It is axiomatic in this world that you have to work with the hand that’s dealt to you.

We’ve unfortunately been dealt a mighty weak hand by a dealer holding a marked deck in the wake of the 2016 election — but for now, it is what it is and we might as well take the hard looks and make the tough choices that go along with the aforesaid axiom.

Lately I’ve been musing about the idea of corporate personhood — the campaign by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and others that would grant corporations the basic rights that people have, on the theory that “businesses are, at least legally, not that different from people,” according to a 2009 New York Times story on the subject.

It is this kind of thinking that should be the primary target of people and organizations who want to bring humanity, not money, back to the fore as the ruling force in this country.

The New York Times article, I should note, was about the then-pending decision in the Citizens United case, in which the Supreme Court overturned more than a century of legal precedent by ruling that Citizens United, a nonprofit corporation and a political action committee funded by the notorious Koch brothers, has identical political-contribution and free-speech rights as a real human being.

Specifically, the court decided in 2010 that prior Federal Election Commission rules, which prevented corporations and unions from funding political ads that mentioned specific candidates in the period immediately preceding an election, were unconstitutional under the First Amendment’s guarantees of free speech.

Corporate speech, in other words, was given complete parity with speech by human beings, regardless of any financial inequality that might exist between corporations and people.

The decision opened the floodgates of corporate spending in politics, and was a major contributor (pun intended) to our current political turmoil.

It ignored the corrupting influence of money in politics, which was the basis of one of the main arguments against the decision by a minority of the nine justices (the decision was 5-4 in favor of Citizens United and against the FEC).

And it flew in the face of a fact that should be accepted by all thinking people everywhere — the fact that corporations are not people. Rather, corporations are instruments aimed at proving ever-increasing profit to the actual people who sit at the heads of these corporations. Period.

One of those minority dissenters, Justice John Paul Stevens (who retired shortly after this decision came out), wrote in the dissent: “corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their ‘personhood’ often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of ‘We the People’ by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.”

When the corporate pursuit of profits clashes with, for example, the rights of workers to collective action to redress grievances (another right enshrined in our Constitution), guess which side wins under the rules that currently run this country? I’ll give you a hint — it’s not the workers, it’s the corporation, and the Citizens United decision stacks the deck even more in corporations’ favor than was the case before.

One odd thing — many of the corporations that have been dumping money into politics since the Citizens United decision are not even American corporations, strictly speaking.

No, a lot of our corporate “citizens” these days actually are “global” corporations, with one foot in the U.S. and one foot abroad — sending their obscene profits overseas, moving corporate headquarters to tax-haven islands or nations to avoid paying their share of taxes to the U.S. government, and shifting manufacturing facilities to other countries for that same reason, as well as to avoid paying a living wage to the workers in those factories.

They don’t care about the hardships experienced by their workers; their only interest is in benefiting their stockholders (many of whom happen to be the same ultra-wealthy men — mostly men, anyway — who are running the corporations and engineering the “globalization” schemes we are discussing).

It’s a feedback loop of wealth, influence and corruption that has no relevance to the lives of real human beings whose sweat and strength were once viewed as the backbone of this country’s industrial might (other than to make it more difficult.)

Of course, corporations know precisely which side of their bread is buttered, and have become adept at sending buckets of money to candidates and sitting politicians seeking re-election, and equally massive amounts to their favorite conservative media outlets, to grease the skids for a continuing assault on ordinary, working-class Americans on a daily basis.

By equating these corporate “persons” with the flesh-and-blood variety that have true claim to that designation, the court has upended politics discourse in this country since corporations obviously have more clout and resources than the average human being.

In response to the Citizens United decision, and the ensuing chaos in politics, there have been centers of resistance.

For example, http://www.movetoamend.org announced earlier this month that legislation has been introduced in Congress to overturn the Citizens United premise by Rep. Rick Nolan of Minnesota.

“It’s time to establish once and for all that corporations are not people, money is not free speech and our elections and public policymaking process are not for sale to the highest corporate bidders,” Nolan declared earlier this month as he introduced legislation titled “We The People (HJR48).”

In perusing the list of co-sponsors to the amendment, I noticed that among the 21 names on the list, none were from Colorado, an oversight that I am sure will soon be rectified by someone who has the courage of his or her convictions (the bill needs 35 co-sponsors to gain official consideration).

Currently, there are 16 states listed as having passed resolutions, citizen initiatives or legislation that would overturn or reverse Citizens United, limit campaign contributions to stem corruption, or otherwise put people before profits.

One of those states happens to be Colorado, where more than 74 percent of voters in 2012 approved Amendment 65, intended to limit campaign contributions overall and by corporations in particular.

I have the feeling that this is the single most critical move we can make to take back control of the country from the anti-human trolls at the top of the corporate heap.

It is up to us.

jbcolson51 [at] gmail.com

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