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Psst! Corporations Are Not People!


This Friday, my dad (and uncle, I think) will accompany 2004 presidential candidate, David Cobb, on the Twin Ports leg of his national speaking tour for Move to Amend. Mr. Cobb will speak about the perils (i.e. 2010 WI governor’s race) of corporate personhood and what is happening, nationally, to abolish it. For those who don’t remember or weren’t aware, “The Monahan brothers” walked across the U.S. last May-October to raise awareness about this issue. So, come have a pint and/or some noms and get informed about an issue that is sure to foul up our lives for generations to come!

22 Comments

Timk

about 9 years ago

"Soylent Green is corporation!"

Dave Sorensen

about 9 years ago

"A person whose behavior is largely amoral and asocial and who is characterized by irresponsibility, lack of remorse or shame, perverse or impulsive (often criminal) behavior."  

That's Webster's definition of a psychopath, but it sure sounds like a corporate "person." Mussolini preferred the term "corporatism" over "fascism." That's where we're headed.

Tom

about 9 years ago

Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad:  The single stupidest decision ever made by our Supreme Court.

brautigan

about 9 years ago

Thanks for the insights, y'all. I hope to see you on Friday! p.s. Good one Tim!

brautigan

about 9 years ago

Oh-- almost forgot: for those who can't make Friday evening's talk/social, "the crew" will be speaking at UWS' Yellowjacket Union, Room 203, at noon on Friday.

Also, just in case you missed them, there will be a "meet n' greet" Saturday morning at 9 at Amazing Grace in Canal Park.

Bob

about 9 years ago

You do realize that if Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad was overturned that personhood would no longer extend to unions and not-for-profits, right?

How can you not have a discussion of corporate personhood without considering the legal and economic impact, especially as it relates to maintaining our economic power relative to other emerging nations? We'll do it unilaterally? No way.

zra

about 9 years ago

If "corporations" wish to be treated as persons, as the Supreme Court says they should be, then they should be subject to all of the same laws that "normal" persons are.

Dave Sorensen

about 9 years ago

If corporate "persons" can't flood the political system with cash it will diminish our economic power? Bob, you assume that what's good for corporate America is good for the rest of us. I don't think so. 

The amount of money spent by unions and other groups is dwarfed by the corporate cash spent capturing our government. Regardless, with public financing of elections it would be fine if unions and others were also restricted as to how much money they could contribute. 

Also, I don't think unions do have corporate personhood. 

"Unions don't have corporate personhood, even though they are also, legally, artificial entities, because unions have never fought to get it." --from The Santa Clara Blues: Corporate Personhood versus Democracy

brautigan

about 9 years ago

FYI, Bob: Unions aren't people either, nor are they corporations. 
U.S. economic power? Not to come off as a total ass, but the future is not as rosy as we think. 

U.S. Debt Clock

Will

about 9 years ago

I'm chiming in to take a little of the partisan edge off the discussion and, hopefully, offer a couple of bits of info that people hadn't seen previously.

As far as flooding our political system with money, corporations don't scare me particularly. There are countervailing influences. For instance, of the top 10 overall contributors to political action (campaigns and lobbying in general), two are corporations, two are PACs (both lean to Democrats), one is a professional organization (gives heavily to both major parties), and five are unions (two public sector and three that are mostly private sector). The time period for the stats is 1989-2010, so mostly before McCain-Feingold.

As for the Supreme Court's decisions, don't assume that this court is particularly pro-corporate. Read the Court's recent decision regarding AT&T and its privacy claim.

And, be careful about asking for corporations to lose their personhood in the eyes of courts and legislators. Corporations would challenge (and perhaps successfully) the ability of government entities to tax their profits if they're not some sort of represented entity.

Let's ask for transparency (in political campaign and lobbying funding) rather than a change of status for corporations.

Bob

about 9 years ago

Excellent points, Will. Glad to read a someone with some business and legal sense.

brautigan

about 9 years ago

I agree with Bob. Great food for thought, Will ... however, I don't necessarily feel that someone needed to "take the partisan edge off of things (play devil's advocate or whatever)." 

To me, this is not so much a partisan issue so much as it is an issue of whether or not money=speech.

January 21, 2010: The Supreme court, in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Campaign ruled that -- given their personhood ("an individual 'in association with other individuals'") status, and thus, their first amendment right to free speech -- corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections cannot be limited. This is what scares me about corporations' "contributions" to political campaigns.

And this doesn't help me sleep at night:

Pew: Fox News Main TV Source of Political News in 2010

-Berv

about 9 years ago

Great points Will, but corporations (and unions) are still abstract entities not people. Seems like they do a good enough job not paying taxes to worry about whether they legally should or not.

-Berv

about 9 years ago

It's tough to punish or hold accountable something abstract.

Jadiaz

about 9 years ago

Isn't a Union, "an individual 'in association with other individuals'"? So if Corporations can't contribute as a person would, then Unions shouldn't be allowed to either. 

They are both, to use the term thrown out there by others, abstract entities. Both formed for and run by people. Both are created to better the lives of their members. Both groups should be allowed to do with their money as they see fit within the confines of the law. 
That is all the ruling did. It guaranteed that individuals, even in a group such as a corporation can have their say in the government meant to serve all people.

brautigan

about 9 years ago

Jadiaz, I agree that unions shouldn't be allowed to contribute as individuals. However, I don't agree that corporations are necessarily formed for people. They may be run by people, but I'm pretty sure their main goal is to maximize profits. I may be wrong.

Will

about 9 years ago

I don't necessarily think my personal opinions are very useful to such discussions.

But, here goes. 

I believe that money is speech. The implications of a contrary judgment are a bit frightening. McCain-Feingold, in part, made a contrary judgment. Under M-F, certain types of ads were banned within a specified timeframe of an election (with the money-does-note-equal-speech as PART of the reasoning for their ability to establish/enforce such a ban). No matter how distasteful and annoying (or who paid for them), I don't think many people want to ban ads near an election. I think there are few clearer examples of (not particularly elevated) political speech. And, that ban favors a particular interest (incumbents) pretty heavily.

When it comes to the Citizens United case, I think they made the right decision. In the US, we recognize collectives of all kinds as legal "persons" for a vast array of good reasons. Those persons have political interests (and legal obligations) that they should be allowed to promote (and fulfill). And, in all fairness (and to an extent legal doctrine), if they don't have a right to promote their interests, their legal obligations become limited. 

On the details of the case, it was a movie - sure a long attack ad in the guise of a film - but still a film. Folks on the political fence didn't go pay to go see what was, essentially, a long attack ad. Just as (almost) nobody in the middle, politically, pays to see Michael Moore films. They were preaching to the choir and it had little effect.

So, unions (particularly other-than-public unions), corporations, NGOs, charities, cooperatives, and motorcycle gangs should have a right to spend on political discourse as they see fit. And, they have legal obligations in society. Rights and obligations should always be closely linked. Beyond that, just give me transparency.

TimK

about 9 years ago

If money is speech, than how do those without money get representation in government?
http://www.publicintegrity.org/articles/entry/3120/?utm_source=publicintegrity&utm_medium=social_media&utm_campaign=twitter

Will

about 9 years ago

TimK -

Collective effort. Contribute to a PAC that has similar views. Join a political party that represents your ideas. 

Check out the list of big contributors to political activities I alluded to earlier:

http://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/list.php

Koch Industries comes in at number 83.  ActBlue, "a clearinghouse for Democratic action," is number one - if people want to be part of a counterbalance to Koch politics, they can give to them or several other groups more influential than Koch.

Besides, bringing Koch Industries into this discussion is irrelevant as it's not a corporation, but a privately held company (your article mentions that). As a privately held company, the proprietors can do with the profits as they see fit without the same accounting rules as a corporation. In other words, make rules that cover business (not just corporate) donations and you haven't touched the Koch brothers...unless you want to make rules that limit individual donations as well as donations of collective (and corporate entities). I don't think that's wise.

I say let Koch industries, let AT&T, let Donald Trump (lord save us), let George Soros donate as much as they want. It's speech. I just want to know who is donating to whom so that if it appears during the next legislative session that those who took the donations are acting as if they're beholden to those who gave I can adjust my next decision.

BeastOfBurden

about 9 years ago

brautigan: Please explain why you believe profits are bad.  Profits, in a corporate setting, result in dividends and stock gains that not only end up providing income for 401k and 403b plans, retirees, but also end up padding the pensions of *GASP!* union workers.

Everything around you was built by profit.  EVERYTHING.

zra

about 9 years ago

If somebody ain't makin a profit, the turrurists win.

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