On Jan. 21, 2010, “corporate personhood” just got more traction.
The Supreme Court strengthened the underpinning for the premise that corporations are entitled to the same constitutional rights as those guaranteed to individual Americans. In its ruling in the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission case, the Supremes appear to have said a corporation is entitled to the same degree of Fourteenth Amendment equal protection, when it comes to political speech, as any voter.
The popping sound you just heard was America’s most hustling lobbyists and political spin doctors opening correctly chilled bottles of properly dry champagne … here comes the gravy train.
Speaking of trains, how did we get here?
The concept of a business group being seen as a citizen in some ways goes back for centuries. However, a key event happened in 1886. The Supreme Court’s decision in Santa Clara vs. Southern Pacific suddenly allowed for constitutional rights a citizen enjoys to be extended to corporations, as well. The court agreed with the railroad company that it should only have to pay certain taxes in its home state.
In that way a constitutional amendment, the 14th, originally intended to help protect former slaves’ rights from being truncated was retooled by creative lawyers to serve the interests of railroad barons. Since that fork in the tracks citizens’ rights granted to corporations have expanded and contracted according to subsequent decisions.
People are creatures with animal instincts. Moreover, people have families; they have parents, siblings, children and friends. They have business associates and colleagues. Those are ties that bind to form a collective sense of duty and morality that comes to bear on most people.
Untethered from such connections to life itself, rather than being born corporations are invented. The purpose of their existence is to make money for the stockholders, while the corporate veil conveniently shields those owners from certain responsibilities and liabilities.
As close as a corporation with thousands of stockholders -- such as those outfits listed on the New York Stock Exchange -- gets to being human is to maybe be like a Frankenstein monster on cocaine, lumbering about the countryside.
An apparent consequence of this ruling will be that politicians of all stripes will become even more beholding to the largess of huge corporations. It’s difficult to imagine many of the founding fathers would have seen a modern multinational corporation as the same thing as a humble citizen. Thomas Jefferson, in particular, seemed fearful of the potential of corporations.
While lovers of unfettered capitalism enjoy extolling the virtues of free markets and fair competition, too many of them actually prefer the rigged game -- corruption of the system to gain an advantage. In corporate-speak such audacity comes under the heading of "risk management."
Any modern society with roots in reason and justice knows it must oversee/regulate corporate capitalism to some degree. Honest people can disagree on how much regulation is needed where. For instance, there’s quite a debate over how to properly regulate banking and other financial services right now.
However, keeping far-flung corporations from dumping advertising zillions into state and local elections, to overwhelm all else, has been seen by many -- including yours truly -- as a reasonable way to limit the activity of corporations.
If mammoth drug companies, insurance companies, etc., are going to be able to throw unlimited money at every political contest they target, in many cases that kind of focused tactic will spawn ad campaigns that will swamp the paltry efforts of the locals.
This decision seems likely to expand the power of lobbyists over legislators, which will take away from the power of individuals. Yes, by upping the ante on what it will cost to wage political campaigns the Roberts Court just threw another log on the fire that is burning up the individual’s right to be heard.
When the Constitution says I have a right to freedom of speech that can’t just mean I have the right to express myself -- to howl at the moon. “Speech,” implies communication -- a speaker and a listener.
This new decision seems to say it’s now going to be OK for a corporation to spend billions of dollars to make sure nobody can hear what I’m trying to say.
The people who are applauding this decision, as if it is striking a blow for everyone’s freedom of speech rights, are playing a game. Many of the smart ones are saying it because they truly believe rich people ought to run everything, including the government. And, they generally think the wealthy ought to be able to buy anything they like, but they are usually smart enough to know better than to say it.
The rest of them, the obedient foot soldiers -- Dittoheads, et al -- are mostly cheering because they are for anything the Democrats are against. They are so wrapped up in beating liberals at every turn, they are living proof of what repetitive propaganda can do. It can make an everyday person act against his best interest, while claiming the very salesmanship that shaped his thinking had no effect on him.
How else can you explain why so many in America’s working class are happy to carry water for duplicitous billionaires? How else can you explain why millions of blue collar conservatives, currently struggling to keep from losing their homes, are now happy to hand over more power to lobbyists who work for penthouse dwellers who live like little kings?