Sunday, December 11, 2011


My article on corporate personhood - the idea that corporations are people too, and deserve the same rights and protections as U.S. citizens - came out in the Bakersfield Californian today. You can read it here

Long story short, the idea that corporations are people too needs to be rejected.

- Mark

Addendum: I'm attaching the article below.


Corporate personhood: A flawed construct that undermines democracy

“If you can’t vote, you can’t contribute.”

This was part of a conversation I had about political campaigns a while back. And it stopped me in my tracks. With this simple comment Larry Moxley summarized how to deal with the influence money has on our political system. And I agreed.

So you know - and I want to be clear on this - Larry Moxley and I are on opposite sides of the political spectrum. There’s very little we agree on. We’ve had strong debates that literally have turned heads in restaurants over the years. But we’re friends who can agree on the things that undermine our national priorities.

When it comes to the influence of money in our political system Mr. Moxley and I agree on this: It’s undermining our political system.

Most of us understand the influence money has on our politics. Simply put, to become legitimate candidates, office seekers spend so much time chasing large donations and corporate money that they lose sight of what‘s good for our communities and our nation.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. When asked why he robbed banks famed bank robber Willie Sutton replied, “That’s where the money is.” Candidates go where the money is too. This means going to large corporations and groups with deep pockets. More on this below. But first, some background.

Candidates for office are forced to pursue money in part because of two legal developments. The most recent allows corporations to give almost unlimited amounts to political campaigns. The earlier, and most important, development granted corporations personhood status.

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney acknowledged this when he shot back at a heckler: "Corporations are people, my friend …”

What Romney didn’t discuss was how corporations became people. If he had he would’ve had to explain how corporate personhood came about.

The key here is a Supreme Court (SC) case decision on taxes (Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, 1886). While the SC ruled in the railroad's favor - arguing corporations are entitled to 14th Amendment protections - it said nothing about corporate "personhood." A court reporter did.

Specifically, a court reporter - not a SC Justice - wrote the Santa Clara case summary in the head notes, stating corporations enjoy the same rights as a U.S. citizen (yes, I've deliberately oversimplified the primary issues here). Corporate America has been running with this ruling ever since. And just like that - and with no birth certificate - corporations now have the same rights and protections as any U.S. citizen.

Later, in Buckley v. Valeo (1976) the SC ruled that spending money to influence elections is a form of constitutionally protected free speech. This was followed up in a 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission (2010), which effectively allows corporations to spend what they want on political campaigns.

The result? Because of the functional equivalent of a typo (1886), corporations are considered people who can speak (1976) as loudly and brashly as they want (2010). Conversely, citizens in the streets of America are given strict limits (time, place, voice) as to how they can exercise their constitutional rights. And it’s distorting our political picture.

If you don’t see it, here’s what’s wrong:

* Corporations are a legal abstracts, created by the state. Per the Enlightenment, constitutional protections were designed for citizens whose rights were historically abused by large corporate entities and the state.

* Corporate "personhood" status was a legal accident. No claim to citizen rights should rest on the functional equivalent of a typo.

* If we can't yell fire in a crowded theater, corporations shouldn’t be able to set fire to political campaigns. Citizens United went too far.

* Unlike most citizens, corporations can directly lobby and get favorable legislation, regular bailouts, subsidies, generous tax write-offs, legal exemptions, limited liability, and can live on indefinitely.

* Foreign subsidiaries can access Madison Avenue, which can distort and elevate their foreign "voice" above most U.S. citizens.

* Corporations find legal cover under proprietary rights (trade secrets) and legal settlements (or fines). This allows corporations to distort and hide their voice.

Our constitution was created to protect citizens from corporate and state abuses. One way to address the trend of corporate money swamping broader national priorities is to consider what Mr. Moxley has suggested for some time now: “If you can’t vote, you can’t contribute.”

It won’t solve all our problems, but it’s a start.

MARK A. MARTINEZ Ph.D., author of The Myth of the Free Market, is professor of political science at Cal State Bakersfield.

1 comment:

A G Peterson said...

Extend this idea further than just corporations -- "If you can't vote, you can't contribute" needs to include only those eligible to vote are permitted to contribute so that political contributions cannot deprive citizens their Constitutional right to freely choose their own representatives.