In this era of big-bucks politics and special-interest election spending, we’ve been hearing more and more talk about “corporate personhood.” The widely accepted definition is that corporations are given the ability to engage in many legal actions (i.e.: enter into contracts, sue, be sued, etc). Make sense.
However, “corporate personhood” also commonly refers to the Supreme Court-ruled precedent of corporations enjoying constitutional rights intended solely for human beings. Neither the Declaration of Independence nor U.S. Constitution ever mention corporations, but decades of court rulings have altered the law to favor interests and grant corporations so-called “rights” that many say empower them to deny citizens the right to full self-governance.
For instance, the high court has prohibited routine inspections of corporate property without a warrant or prior permission, even though scheduling such visits may give time for the company to hide threats to public health and safety. It has struck down state laws requiring companies to disclose product origins, thus creating “negative free speech rights” for corporations and preventing consumers from knowing what’s in our food. It also has prohibited citizens wanting to fend off corporate chains encroachment from enacting progressive taxes on chain stores, and has struck down state laws restricting corporate spending on ballot initiatives and referenda, enabling corporations to block citizen action through what, theoretically, is the purest form of democracy. On Tuesday, April 2, voters in Whitewater and Fort Atkinson will have a chance to weigh in on whether they agree that corporations are not persons and possess only the privileges citizens and their elected representatives willfully grant them. On the ballot is a referendum seeking to reverse “corporate personhood” and limit corporations to their proper role: doing business.
Specifically, it seeks to abolish the concept of “corporate personhood” granted by the 2010 decision in U.S. Supreme Court in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, which states that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions. Second, it states that the notion of “money is not free speech” needs to be part of campaign finance reform to prevent wealthy individuals or other nonprofit, non-corporate groups or unions from continuing to bankroll elections in hopes of getting their way.
Now, this is not a partisan issue. A ww.GfKAmerica.com poll showed that typically 83 percent of Americans — including 81 percent of Republicans, 78 percent of Independents and 85 percent of Democrats — want limits on the amount of money corporations, unions and other organizations can spend to influence elections. Certainly, we heard a lot of Jefferson County-area folks say the same thing during and after the most recent state and federal elections, which witnessed record campaign spending by SuperPacs and wealthy individuals with personal agendas not necessarily coinciding with those of “we, the people.”
Overall, 11 states have passed some kind of resolution in support of overturning the Citizens United decision. While such measures are nonbinding, they underscore the grassroots support for an amendment from the states that will push Congress ultimately to act.
That’s what’s happening in Fort Atkinson and Whitewater next Tuesday. We encourage voters add their voice to a movement that grows in importance by the day.