Corporations Are People?
“This is a crucial time in the fight for corporate civil rights. Just look at the hateful signs at Occupy Wall Street: ‘Corporations Are Not People!’ Wow, I thought we were past the point in this country where some people aren’t people just because they have different color skin or different religion or were born in a lawyer’s office, only exist on paper, have no soul and can never die.” Stephen Colbert, comedian
“I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one”. Robert Reich, economist.
We are moving into another election season. We all know the whole election process is broken. It has been for years. This is not because individual voters are committing “fraud” as the Republicans claim. It is not because illegal immigrants are voting as Trump falsely has claimed. It is because we don’t really have functioning democracy. It is because of the huge amount of money it takes to run for office.
The Supreme Court exacerbated the problem in 2010 with the Citizens United decision. Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission said corporations have the same rights as people. In an earlier case, Buckley v. Valeo, the Court ruled that campaign spending is free speech protected by the First Amendment. These rulings have opened the floodgates to huge increases in campaign spending and influence on our elections. Raising money has become the number one job of politicians and the source of this money is wealthy people, their front organizations, and large corporations. Democracy is for sale.
Of course money in politics is nothing new. It has been this way from day one. We have a long history of voter suppression, gerrymandering, and ballot box stuffing. Vicious personal attacks on candidates are not a recent aberration. But the Citizens United ruling has been especially damaging to free, fair, and open elections. It, along with Republican control of many state legislatures, has led to a wholesale gutting of restrictions on campaign contributions. The result has been an explosion of big donor money in to politics at all levels.
An example is the recent Wisconsin Supreme Court election. The supposedly non-partisan race had outside groups spending over $3 million. This is “dark money” not reported and in addition to campaign contributions raised by the candidates. We don’t know the final cost of this election. But the courts are for sale. At least that is a logical conclusion based on how much various interest groups were willing to pay to get their candidate elected.
There are also concerns with “corporate personhood” that go beyond making campaign contributions. Giving corporations constitutional rights can be used to override many sensible and necessary restrictions on business practices. This can threaten health, safety, labor, and advertising laws. We are moving toward a completely corporate controlled society. For more on this topic go to the web sites listed below.
The Citizens United case sparked many efforts to amend the Constitution to reverse the decision. These efforts have attracted support from across the political spectrum. A solid majority of Americans all across the country agree that money has too much influence on elections. Many polls show that overturning the Citizens United decision is supported by 70-80% of citizens. Nineteen state legislatures have passed resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment. Nationally, 775 cities, towns and counties support an amendment. In Wisconsin 129 communities have joined the call. This includes deeply conservative, Republican cities like West Allis and Waukesha which have passed advisory referendums by margins of 70%.
There are many issues with wide public support that get no legislative action because of opposition by powerful, big donor, interests. Frequently the wishes of the people are simply ignored. Getting the money out of elections has to be the first priority of all of us regardless of our specific issue concerns. Little will happen on equal rights, economic fairness, peace, environmental protection or any other issue without first establishing real democracy.
Across the country citizens are working to fix this problem. Move to Amend is a national organization with local groups in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Wisconsin has a group called Wisconsin United to Amend (WIUTA).
Our representative democracy is supposed to be a government of, by, and for the people. But increasingly we are an oligarchy governed by the wealthy few. As Bill Moyers has said, “You can’t have a people’s democracy as long as corporations are considered people.”
To learn more about all this check out these resources.
Move to Amend: https://movetoamend.org
United to Amend: http://wiuta.org
Free Speech for People: https://freespeechforpeople.org
Reclaim Democracy: http://reclaimdemocracy.org/corporate-personhood