Finally: Corporations are People too!

There were many in the evangelical world of my youth (read: James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, et. al.) who decried the ‘liberal courts’ for overstepping their bounds by using the court as means of legislating, rather than limiting their responsibilities to ‘upholding the constitution according intent of its framers’. They viewed Roe v Wade as an example of, not merely ruling on a case, but of using a case to create and impose a new ethos that was far beyond the scope of the case at hand. How dare those liberals do that!  If only conservatives ruled the court things would be different, right?

Apparently not. The court used the case of “Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission” as a means for overturning a century of campaign finance laws, ushering in an era whereby corporations (both American, and foreign ones with US subsidiaries) are granted the same freedom of speech rights as individual Americans. The McCain/Feingold law that sought to limit the degree to which companies could influence elections (and thereby, influence elected officials) was overturned with this ruling.

So, as Stephen Colbert mockingly said last night: “Now my bank, “Morgan Stanley” has the same rights to contribute their voice to policy making in Washington as my barber, “Stanley Morgan”. Each one can donates hundreds of millions to campaigns and then, by virtue of their generosity, have access to, and influence over, the policy makers. It’s a fair battle. And may the best man win.”

All sarcasm excluded, isn’t it obvious to everyone that granting free speech rights to multi-national corporations is 1) far beyond the intent of our founding father’s intent, 2) dangerous in it’s opening that will now grant foreign companies influence over American campaigns, 3) marginalizing to common citizens, who will never be able to match the scope and wealth of large corporate spending and influence, and 4) the very kind of ‘legislative over-reach’ that conservatives have been angry about for years.

This is precisely why there’s so much anger and cynicism towards American politics. Apparently the religious right, and political conservatives weren’t really angry about the Supreme Court’s over-reach in the 70′s, but angry that the over-reach didn’t favor their ideology.  As Dobson himself has written:  “tyranny by judicial fiat is destructive to our democratic institutions.”    Now that the recent court and ruling is in line with their goals, the right has fallen strangely silent about “the intent of the framers and the tyranny of judicial fiat”.  I guess it all depends on the ruling.

When the rhetoric dies down over this ruling, the thing that will have changed is this: corporations can buy as much time to exercise ‘free speech’ and thus influence the vote, as you and I can. This isn’t good news for salmon or eagles, people who use banks and have loans, water tables, topsoil, small farmers around the world, or the artic wildlife refuge.

But it’s good news for multi-national corporations because now, when we appeal to our constitutional rights by declaring, ‘we the people’, they can spend 150 million dollars crying back: “I’m a person too!”

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • stephen papineau

    i am still in disbelief about this. I keep wondering to myself how bad this will really be. My imagination can wander pretty far, and it is scary. I wonder what type of check we might have to come up with to restore the balance. Or if there is one.
    And i guess i am still in awe that the supreme court ruled this way. What line of reasoning was it that started giving corporations rights anyway? Are there other large democratic nations who have such a law? How did it play out there? All these are questions i’ll be seeking answers to in the near future.

  • A Voice of Reason

    In Washington state, it is perfectly legal for a corporation to give any amount to state or local candidates. Yet, we do not see Boeing and Microsoft controlling Olympia or usurping the will of the people. Washington residents continue to elect candidates who are generally unfriendly toward business interests. How much money do large companies in this state donate to political campaigns? Obviously, not enough to make a difference.

    Here’s the bottom line. Large corporations will not donate much more now compared to before the recent Supreme Court decision. Even with the law in effect, a corporation could get around it by starting a PAC and spending money on behalf of the candidate, while not actually donating directly to their campaign. Thus, in practice, things won’t be much different than before the decision.

    That said, why shouldn’t corporations have a say in the political process? Contrary to leftist thought, a corporation is not an inherently evil entity. Corporations provide millions of jobs for Americans, donate millions, possibly billions of dollars to charities, and, in these hard economic times especially, are under tremendous pressure. It is in their interest, as well as the interest of their employees, that business-friendly candidates are elected to national office.

    Lastly, political donations by labor unions have never been restricted, and they take advantage of this far more than any corporation ever will. I haven’t heard a peep from liberals about this. Moving on…

    Ultimately, I disagree with SCOTUS’ conclusion in the nineteenth century Slaughterhouse cases that a corporation is a person protected by the 14th Amendment. It is not true. As in Roe v. Wade, the court invented a right that isn’t in the Constitution. However, for the Federal government to dictate what people or businesses do with THEIR money is also unconstitutional according to the 1st, 9th, and 10th Amendment.

  • Lee

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and corporations are created equal*, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men and Corporations, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

    *With, of course, the caveat that corporations are amoral, immortal, and ultimately nothing more than a group of people who reap the rewards but never personally suffer the consequences of their decisions.

    • http://www.americanclarity.com Jeremy

      So… as soon as you get together with other people for the purpose of business, you shouldn’t have freedom of speech?

      Lee, if there’s anything more dangerous than the people in corporations having constitutional rights, it’s telling the government–which has a comparative monopoly in violence–that they don’t have to follow the constitution.

      Here’s my response to Keith Olbermann’s hilarious rant about the topic:

      http://americanclarity.com/2010/01/23/on-olbermanns-corporatocracy/

      • Lee

        I’m confused. Is there a rule somewhere that CEOs can’t talk about politics, or contribute to campaigns with the same federal limits that I do? Or CFOs? Or members of boards of directors?

        In fact, no, that’s not the case currently – perhaps you missed it. Did you notice this bold notice on the top of your linked contributions page: “The organizations themselves did not donate , rather the money came from the organization’s PAC, its individual members or employees or owners, and those individuals’ immediate families.”

        Now, you claim that you can’t see “main street” in those numbers, but I do. I know my buddy who works for Microsoft and donated $300 is part of that big Microsoft number. But he’s a person, a human whose rights were granted by God and declared inalienable truths under US law. Microsoft, Inc itself enjoys and should enjoy no such standing.

        I do wish you luck in your quest to support corporate personhood, however. Perhaps soon we’ll be able to marry corporations, or prosecute people who drive them out of business for murder. You think if we can convince Microsoft to convert to Christianity we can have it baptized, and then we’ll see it in Heaven with us next to the Father?

      • http://www.americanclarity.com Jeremy

        Lee, I mentioned exactly what you mentioned in my article: it’s obvious that the corporations up until this time were responsible for RAISING the funds.

        What I’m defending is a person’s right to disclose information about candidates and fund movies that make political statements without having the government stop them. Are you even familiar with the case that resulted in this ruling? Don’t you know that a filmmaker was banned from releasing a movie about Hillary, which resulted in the lawsuit?

        FYI:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizens_United_v._Federal_Election_Commission

  • http://www.ultranurd.net Nicolas Ward

    Does anyone know how this affects the ability of religious organizations to engage in political speech via donations, campaign advertising, and the like?

    • http://www.americanclarity.com Jeremy

      I don’t think that religious organizations have been impacted. They still lose tax-free status if they make political endorsements, but I have yet to see whether or not their contributions to PACs are limited or not. Good question!

  • A Voice for the Voiceless?

    The problem is simply that corporations represent a very small demographic of people whose political opinions are aimed at financial gains for their business. These opinions often do not reflect the best interest of the “people.” Even if they don’t contribute a dollar more than what they have in the past, funding for campaigns has been shown to be biasing in legislature. And if there is no limit to that, the potential outcomes is frightening.

    All that said, the intent of the constitution was to make every person equal; to make every voice heard. With or without being rich and “influential” by position. And what this ruling did, summarized, is say, “If you have money, American or not, your words and your opinions have more power, and you get to have more say.” It is unconstitutional. It is dangerous.

  • Patrick C

    I don’t have any opinions to offer that haven’t already been voiced, but wanted to mention the documentary “The Corporation.” It’s the first thing I thought of when I heard about the ruling.

    In a nutshell, it tells us about how corporations managed to win the “we’re people too” argument, but if these corporations were indeed people, they’d be locked up for their many transgressions.

    • http://www.americanclarity.com Jeremy

      I saw the corporation, too. Remember that part where the makers of the documentary were listing all the horrible problems caused by corporations, and they mentioned “building fires” and “layoffs”? How evil of corporations… laying people off when they can’t afford them!

  • David

    I’m sorry, but for a pastor with a large, new church building, this smacks of more than just a little bit of hypocrisy. How much lobbying did we do at community meetings and city hall to convince our neighbors to allow us to build the new building?

    A corporation is simply a group of people doing something together under a legal entity. These people give the company money in the hopes that they will succeed in their enterprise. From the earliest corporations that funded trading ships to the corporations of today that fund medical research, the organization is what it is, and is only as good as the people who are running it (just like a Church!). REI, Microsoft, The Sierra Club, MoveOn.org and the SEIU all give money, run PAC’s, and try to influence decisions by politicians. The Washington Trails Alliance is sending lobbyists to Olympia on Feb 3rd. In short, anyone who is doing anything worthwhile that politicians WANT TO muck about with or that they WANT POLITICIANS TO muck about with will employ lobbyists and try to influence campaigns.

    What is unique about a Corporation is that it can be held liable. If someone eats a bad hamburger, they don’t sue the cook, the butcher, and the rancher, they sue the Corporation. In addition, a corporation provides financial isolation. If the early sea faring traders saw their ship go down, they were out everything they had invested in the voyage, but they couldn’t lose their house (unless they used their house to fund the voyage, but most people weren’t that dumb). Today, corporations are created to do medical research, drilling exploration, etc. for much the same reason. The group of people who form the corporation declare how much they will invest. It is then, with that sum of money, that the company goes on to either succeed or fail. If successful, a corporation will often try to raise additional money so that it can grow. Again, PEOPLE get together and invest more in the corporation. The corporation still expresses the shared goals (and resources) of its investors, pooled and limited.

    In contrast, no one sues the United Auto Workers when the factory lines produce cars with known defects. In fact, the UAW isn’t even named as a party. Unions will also (almost) never invest in a corporation’s success. The worker believes that showing up is enough of an investment (notice they are also in a limited loss situation). Yet, we allow Unions to argue on behalf of their interests in the public square. We also willingly allow REI to argue for greater access to wilderness areas, better funding for rangers and wilderness management, etc. Yet, we fear that a company WE DISAGREE WITH, when given the EXACT SAME space in the public square, will ruin everything. How absurd!

    I am happy with the decision because it reverses some of McCain-Feingold (the BCRA). While I agree that campaigns have become horribly expensive, with the guy possessing the most money winning, recent elections have shown that the BCRA reduced the transparency of the funding, but failed to reduce the amount of money being spent. Think about it this way, Obama out spent McCain (yes, the same McCain) by hundreds of millions of dollars. Obama won the election. We have no idea who funded Obama’s war chest to this day.

    The other horribly disturbing part of this post is its direct quote from Obama’s State of the Union speech regarding foreign control. It is a fact that foreign companies are, and will continue to be, excluded. Incidentally, so are foreign individuals – though both Gore and Obama have been caught red-handed raising money from foreign nationals. The President, who chastised the members of the Supreme Court in a most alarmingly partisan and vicious way, was in fact lying to the American people as he did it. Describing something that is not so, and using this to argue that he is right and the Court is wrong. (The text from the decision is at: http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-205.pdf.)

    I, for one, couldn’t be happier to be rid of this hateful, vindictive, dishonest, and immature President.

    • stephen papineau

      isn’t Obama a racist too? Pretty sure i heard glen beck say so. And dang, he’s a straight shooter if i ever saw one. Sorry. had to do it. :)

  • Graeme

    To A Voice of Reason,

    Corporations represent consumerism and consumption for profits sake, and many by any means necessary. Sure, there are some corporations that will not abuse this change in contribution policy(or won’t have to hide it as much.) but to think that they should have a say equal to or greater then the common man is short sighted.

    I am willing to bet dollars to donuts that the next election cycle will set contribution records that are beyond belief.

    As far as the millions, or as you say billions, of contributions they make to charities, I have to call you out.

    Corporations that give away millions of their billions are not philanthropists.

    The person that is giving of their time for less then it is worth(i.e. minimum wage workers, teachers, pastors.) are the real philanthropists.

    While you stand on the side of corporations who have been outsourcing and downsizing, and many who have been flat out stealing our money via war profiteering, wall street, and main street, realize that I am not a flaming liberal democrat.

    I am a reasonable person that fears for our country when money is the only thing that controls our policy.

  • http://www.livejournal.com/users/jadeejf Beth

    This is what so frustrates me as a former conservative. In my youth, the hypocrisy of liberals was highlighted over and over by my conservative parents. As an adult, I see similar hypocrisy in the conservative camp. They are extremely fearful of government control, but what is government if not “a group of people doing something together under a legal entity” to quote an earlier commenter. Personally, I would prefer neither corporations nor government entities to retain rights that belong to individuals. But I’m outnumbered on both sides- one side thinks corporations are evil, the other thinks the government is evil. I think both have the capacity for great good and great evil. But I’d rather we let individuals exercise that capacity in funding campaigns.

    • stephen papineau

      well said. Thanks! you sound like a voice of reason.

  • Denver Todd

    Well, another way to see this is that newspapers won’t be the only national corporations who have free speech.

  • Ken

    I like our angle Denver. Not to mention labor unions, as well as the incumbent politicians themselves. Let’s all remember that the foxes are guarding the hen house.

  • http://robertdeeble.com Robert Deeble

    well, David, I for one donated to Obama’s war chest…

    Your post on corporations is a good example of a well thought response in favor of the supreme court’s decision. I would argue though that your response doesn’t take into account that corporations exist for the purpose of financial profit and this would (or should) separate them from simple a grouping of people with a single voice.

    I am not sure the ins and out of why the court decided “legally” the way they did but I think it would be prudent for us to limit financial influence from such large profit-driven entities in areas like elections or marketing to children (I would recommend to you the documentary “Consuming Kids” available on netflix). I think the idea that a corporation has the same rights as an individual person feels honestly absurd and dangerous. I would think the more power an entity has the more responsibility they should carry but their voice shouldn’t be any bigger than than Joe the Plumber in my mind.

    Sadly your final comment of a “hateful president” turned an intelligent post into a inflammatory one. Immature possibly in line with his remark to the court… hateful… come on David.

  • Andrew

    David I respect and enjoyed your corporation commentary. Spoken like a true “red” Republican in search of the gold..you’d make a fine lobbyist!!!!!!! Just a little humor … ha~ha.

    I agree to disagree with you but again certainly enjoyed your commentary/knowledge via corporations…

    The beautiful thing about you and the Republican party – very slow and STUBBORN learners. I’ll tell you who funded Barack’s “War Chest”. It was me… and I’m a pawn!!!!!!!! In sum, it was the millions of young gadgies sending Barack $50.00 every 2 months adding up to millions…..cheers to millions of pawns crushing the “RICH RIGHT” king and queens in a fine game of chess!

    All kidding aside David it’s going to be refreshing to observe Republicans as they start to work with Barack via our fine nation’s health care conundrums. Believe me Barack will bring them to the nation’s kitchen table. WOW! Did you observe Barack’s dialogue with 140 Republicans? That was simply unreal!!!!!!! Harvard, Yale, SUP, Corporations, pawns, etc, etc will study him for a long season.

    Mugs UP to Barack lambasting/shiining the light on the Supreme Court!!!! After that horrid greedy ruling the pawns will really have to rise now David!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Send in your $25.00 to Barack’s “War Chest” David!

    Pondering how a Supreme Court could have ever made that 5-4 ruling….it came to me David, your Bible states one reason…$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

    Pawn,
    Andrew

  • Bryson

    For people that get upset over this ruling, I suggest you do a little more research into PAC’s, Interest groups, and Corporations. Look at their current contributions and the impact they have.

    No one seemed to complain when Chris Dodd and Barack Obama were the biggest beneficiaries of contributions from fanny mae and freddie mac. No one on the left seems to complain about the contributions given by the Teachers union.

    Even before this ruling, it wasn’t about the people when it came to contributing money. If you think that then you must be looking the other way. It was still left v. right before and it will not change much now. Groups and companies will continue to give money to the candidate that helps them the most. Go back and look at the piece the seattle times did on political contributions last year. It really is sad that people are now taking shots at the right over this ruling but were don’t say a peep when you have groups like moveon.org and their shady tactics.

    Focus on what you want but this will not change the dynamics of politics much. If you think it will drastically change things then go back and observe the last 20 years and how it has been organized


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