Post Politics: Tea partiers should reject 'corporate personhood'

Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 11:45pm

As soon as the Supreme Court ruled late last month in the soon-to-be landmark decision Citizens United v. FEC, the predictable responses flooded in from all over the political spectrum. The decision, which ruled broadly that corporations could not be curtailed from directly waging campaigns for or against candidates, was uniformly derided by the Left. Progressives saw the ruling as an assault on our democracy and the removal of the final roadblock against plutocracy.

The Right, on the other hand, praised the decision as a righteous triumph of constitutionalism. Free speech was alive and well — even for “embattled” corporate America.

Both reactions are troubling. There is nothing wrong with liberals and progressives being concerned with the further empowerment of corporations. But one gets the feeling that it wasn’t any damage that the Supreme Court was doing to the Constitution that bothered the Left, but that the court was giving corporations yet another weapon to “subvert democracy.”

With the Right, one feels that the vigor with which they celebrated this triumph of “free speech” was helped along by the fact that their brand of good guy had won. The captains of industry, the Randian supermen who keep our economy pumping, were victorious over those who constantly attempt to hinder the rights of the productive class. The liberals hated the decision, and the business world loved it.

What’s not to like?

To an independent-minded conservative or libertarian, a lot.

Sure, Republican politicians may want to embrace this decision. They think the ruling will help Republicans as corporations naturally gravitate toward the pro-business party.

But the truth is, corporations always had several routes to influence our politics — such as political action committees — and, in actuality, “pro-corporate” policies are no longer the exclusive domain of the Republican Party, anyway. Democrats can be corporate, too.

The grassroots of the Republican Party, along with the angry independents and libertarians of the tea party movement, should ignore knee-jerk reactions and speak out against this ruling. If these tea party patriots really want to embody the spirit of the framers, this is a chance to do it.

Where exactly in the Constitution does it say corporations have rights? Corporate personhood may be long-standing legal precedent, but that doesn’t make it constitutional or righteous. The court decision that is credited with establishing corporate personhood doesn’t even make the concept explicit.

It was actually a court reporter who, in an attempt to summarize the case Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad, coined the term. Author Thom Hartmann explains in Common Dreams: “In writing up the case’s headnote — a commentary that has no precedential status — the Court’s reporter, a former railroad president named J.C. Bancroft Davis, opened the headnote with the sentence: ‘The defendant corporations are persons within the intent of the clause in section 1 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which forbids a state to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.’ ”

Lawyers started using the headnote in their arguments, and subsequent courts cited the note in their opinions. Before that time, corporations were seen as artificial persons with privileges — but certainly not rights.

No one is saying corporations should have no expectations of legal protection, but to assert they deserve the rights of human beings is absurd.

A corporation cannot long for a woman or love his children. A corporation cannot feel pain or remorse and doesn’t have to die. Corporations clearly are not persons in any sense of the word. If we are all truly “endowed by our Creator” with certain rights, there can be no rights for corporations.

This tea party movement has been all about its independence recently. Members and leaders say they are not Republicans but patriots. They say they are not conservatives but independents and freedom fighters.

It’s time they prove it. Yes, big government can be a destructive force to the country, but it isn’t the only kind of “big” one should fear.

Corporations don’t seek to influence the government to promote a libertarian utopia. They get involved with government to gain a competitive edge, either through regulation or subsidy. All the corporate money in our politics does not go to secure a free market, despite what some on the anti-corporate left will tell you. The very last thing big corporations want is a fair or free market. Big Business plays politics to secure its position and keep the little guy out.

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29 Comments on this post:

By: govskeptic on 2/1/10 at 4:55

I agree with most everything in the author's comments. Several yrs ago
the US Supreme Court gave Corporations several rights in campaign
financing. I also didn't like that decision. This newest one is only an
extension of same. One important thought not mentioned by the article
however, is an extremely important one. Since most main stream
media is also a part of Corporate America as are the Trade Unions
(50% membership is now Government employees) They have been
exempted from these past exemptions and free to support or oppose
candidates at will. This decision will level that playing field to some
extent. Foreign Governments or Corporations and their subsidiaries
where located inside the US or not are still excluded!

By: idgaf on 2/1/10 at 5:32

How many times in our lifetime have we heard the term (good or bad) Corporate citizen?

They have a bigger stake in who is in charge of our government then the individual and litterally could live and die with their decisions (ie barrys statement that if they wanted to build a new coal fired plant they would go bankrupt).

Corporations are NOT our enemy and that concept has to be rejected by sane people. Because of them we are who we are today and they provide jobs and things we need and are entitled to a voice.

The "progressives" think they should tell us how to live our lives and force us if they have to, the republicans/conservatives believes everyone should have a voice.

Need an example look at how the "progressives" handled health care locking out duly elected republican representatives of the people silencing their voice and look how they are ignoring the publics voice saying it MUST be done.

Only fools think (or believe) you can insure millions of people more for less money and maintain (or improve) care. We have the best health care system in the world. Is it perfect no but our survival rate is higher from cancer and other fatal illnesses compared to countries with "socialized" medicine.

Took a friend of mine 3 years to get a hernia operation in Canada. People in the UK die from treatable conditions by time they get through the system. The treatable becomes terminal.

By: willtw on 2/1/10 at 7:40

Referring to the direct heading in this article, specifically TeaParty role and corporate interests, the Tea Party movement started with all the best intentions and by persons truly vested in the interests of keeping government small, returning the US government back to reality and all of that was blown from the water with the NATIONAL convention to be held this month in Nashville. A lot of us in this movement applauded the opportunity to participate UNTIL we got the details, heard the shuffling "rope-a'dope" of the convention leaders and commitees and then watching them drop from the picture....We will not attend either and wish for a return to a not for profit standing, conducted by well meaning, non self grandizing persons with the cause at heart NOT the money in the extended hand! These issues TeaParty people seek resolve on are far too serious to let the cause be diluted by people seeking MONEY and POWER.....It is an embarrassment to the average citizen, to Nashville as our home and to the cause we seek resolve in. As an independent, support by Sara Palin to this event will ultimately hurt her and she should withdraw from her participation in the so-called Tea Party Nat'l Convention!

By: Kosh III on 2/1/10 at 7:40

Corporations are not the enemy but the are not our friend either. Most businesses would just as soon cut your throat as cut your costs. They care only about one thing and if you profit---fine, if you lose--fine too.
They are NOT persons and should not have rights.

By: sidneyames on 2/1/10 at 7:59

Kosh, you are correct. We can't sue a corporation, can we? That's why they "incorporate - to avoid losing everything". So I'm with you. How can they have rights?

By: dnewton on 2/1/10 at 8:35

As long as the government claims to right to carve up, control, regulate and tax a corporation, the corporation should retain the right to complain about it in a public way. This right to speak has already deteriorated into a right to lobby for more subsidies but, on the whole, the positives will outweigh the negatives. To be consistent, wouldn't this muzzle the Chamber of Commerce too when it acts as an agent of many different corporations?

By: idgaf on 2/1/10 at 8:46

sid you CAN sue a corporation and it is done all the time.

What is protected is PERSONAL assets not corporate assets.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 2/1/10 at 9:31

dnewton, how do you feel about monopolies?

By: sidneyames on 2/1/10 at 10:48

By: idgaf on 2/1/10 at 8:46
sid you CAN sue a corporation and it is done all the time.

What is protected is PERSONAL assets not corporate assets

Thanks idgaf. I stand corrected (and rightly so).

By: kennyj on 2/1/10 at 12:43

I started my political life as a Barry Goldwater Republican and maintained that position until the 80's. Neither party gives a damn about the class that supports the rest of this screwed up government and economy. I carry no political affiliation now and if I think the candidates aren't qualified, use a write in.

Corporations are not individuals, they are composed of individuals who get to exert undue influence to promote their wants. Doesn't have anything to do with the public good, the only goal is to increase share value and justify ridiculous salaries and bonuses. The Corporate (with the exceptions of the irresponsible unions) position may very well not reflect those of the real producers within that Corporation.

Everybody in this country is for sale all the way up to the Supreme Court. There is nothing wrong with making a profit or a decent salary, but it only seems to lead to greed, leading to unethical or immoral behaviour, whether or not it is legal is immaterial.

By: whoanellie on 2/1/10 at 1:18

Funny, I have never heard a member of the "anti-corporate left" say that "All the corporate money in our politics" goes "to secure a free market".

By: Blanketnazi2 on 2/1/10 at 2:09

excellent post, kenny.

By: Captain Nemo on 2/1/10 at 2:28

Great post kennyj

By: Dragon on 2/1/10 at 2:51

"Corporations don’t seek to influence the government to promote a libertarian utopia. They get involved with government to gain a competitive edge, either through regulation or subsidy. "

Ergo, corporations are evil. How dare they oppose the utopia the left so valiantly fights for?

By: Captain Nemo on 2/1/10 at 3:08

By: Dragon on 2/1/10 at 2:51
"Corporations don’t seek to influence the government to promote a libertarian utopia. They get involved with government to gain a competitive edge, either through regulation or subsidy. "

Ergo, corporations are evil. How dare they oppose the utopia the left so valiantly fights for?

-.. .-. .- --. --- -. / -.-. .-. .- .--.

By: yogiman on 2/1/10 at 4:02

Why should a person be allowed take money from anyone out of their district to seek that district office? Why would anyone out of their district want to give them money to run for an office that wasn't going to represent the 'giver'? Why are House seats worth millions of dollars? And the Senate seats are worth much more..

It has gotten to the point, 'if you ain't got the money, Honey, you ain't gonna run'. A common person wishing to represent the people in their districts are long past. Political offices today are strictly business ventures.

Isn't it great to be 'eligible' to choose your own benefits? Your salary, medical benefits, retirement program? Would it be nice if we could, also?

I have believed there should be a term limit on all political offices for years.

By: idgaf on 2/1/10 at 9:09

Well whether you like it or not it is now the law of the land the same as if Congress passed it.

By: idgaf on 2/1/10 at 9:09

Well whether you like it or not it is now the law of the land the same as if Congress passed it.

By: bfra on 2/2/10 at 4:42

There is no "We The Peope" any more! It is us "the politicians" and their mindset, WE rule regardless. Example: Bunker - his wife wanted. MCC - ego bigot Dean wanted. They could care less what the taxpayer think or want.

By: Kosh III on 2/2/10 at 7:44

Funny how the GOP likes this particular bit of judicial activism.

By: girliegirl on 2/2/10 at 8:48

As the wife of a former politician, let me tell ya.. the GREATEST invention of all time for politicians raising funds are these "non-traceable" debit cards you can buy at gas stations and such! They're super easy to buy, no one knows who bought them, and you can mail them to your fav candidate all day long.... devious beyond all dreams. :-)

Plus, even if the candidate were to be audited, they're still non-traceable, so you'll never know where the contribution came from.

By: Dragon on 2/2/10 at 9:04

Funny how only the GOP insists on upholding the Constitution.

By: sidneyames on 2/2/10 at 9:51

Some corporations are not so bad. I mean, they do employ millions of people. How would that work if Walmart, KMart, Food Lion, Publix, GM, Toyota, Microsoft, Dell, Hewlitt Packard, etc., were divided up into who know's how many little mom and pop stores? How would we regulate them at all?

And are we saying that sole proprietorship, partnerships and little mom/pop businesses are all SOOOOO honest and not ripping us, the American people off at times, even in small ways?

Just curious.

By: Kosh III on 2/2/10 at 2:41

Where in the constitution are corporations given personhood? It ain't there. It has to be inferred/deduced.

Sid. Yes, there are good corporations, eg. the women's shoe company Ryka gives 5% of it's profits to a cancer foundation.
There are also the ones that cheerfully pollute, abuse employees, cheat customers etc etc.

By: idgaf on 2/2/10 at 11:01

gg interesting post. Bribery would be untracable.

By: MattCollins on 2/3/10 at 3:55

I think that fundamentally is the fact that the Constitution doesn't allow the federal government to have anything to do with campaigns, just elections. Therefore it is not within the purview of the feds to "regulate" campaigns.

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