Nel's New Day

January 21, 2013

Corporations Are Not People

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 9:33 PM
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Today,  January 21, is Martin Luther King Day, a federal holiday to celebrate the life of the man who was shot and killed almost 45 years ago when he went to Memphis to support union rights. It is also the day that the first black president is inaugurated for the second time. Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion across the United States.

Today is another anniversary of a Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allows corporations to make unlimited concealed donations to political candidates. This ruling permitted almost $1 billion to be fed into last fall’s election with the public not knowing who is donating the money to the super PACs.  About two-thirds of all the money went to just ten of these PACs with 89 percent of the funds going to attack the opposing candidate. Consultants think that these ads adversely affect the democratic process. The attacks were so vicious that even some Republican candidates came out in opposition, despite the fact that 90 percent of the funding benefited the GOP positions.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) spoke about how the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United is “corrosive” to our democracy. Republican senators have told Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), “You’re leading us off the cliff here. This is a crazy place for us to be, defending secret unlimited money. We’re one scandal way from owning this mess.”

One of the provisions of Citizens United is that there be no communication between the super PACs and the candidates’ campaigns. As long as super PACs act independently of the candidate, there is no danger of corruption, the high court reasoned. An analysis of this election showed that these rules were broken to the point that super PACs sharing mailing addresses and offices with the chosen candidate’s own election campaign.

During the last three years, seven states, countless small towns, and more than 300 cities have passed resolutions calling for the overturn of Citizens United. The most recent one is Los Angeles, where the city council has voted to draft ballot language for voters to determine whether there should be limits on campaign spending and whether corporations are “people,” as the Supreme Court declared.  If passed, L.A. will also urge Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 ruling. During the past two years, Congressional legislators have tried to put 17 bills to do this, but none of them made it to the floor for a vote.

Common Cause is a leader behind the city and state resolutions. Derek Cressman, director of the organization’s Campaign to Reverse Citizens United, said, “The results we’ve seen so far from these ballot measures have been beyond our hopes and expectations.” The ballot measures all passed, winning from 72 percent to 81 percent of the vote, including the red state of Montana where 75 percent of the voters supported overturning the court’s ruling.

Cressman said he got the idea for local ballot measures from the 17th Amendment, which brought about the direct election of U.S. senators in 1913. For years, a constitutional amendment to elect senators by popular vote instead of appointing them was proposed in the House but, not surprisingly, was blocked in the Senate. But when Oregon put the matter to a popular vote, followed by twenty-nine other states, Congress felt enough pressure to pass the amendment. All constitutional amendments must have two-thirds approval in both the House and Senate and then approval by two-thirds of the states.

Short of a constitutional amendment, Democrats have tried to pass a Disclose Bill that would require publicly traded corporations to disclose their donations to these super PACs through expanding the Securities and Exchange Commission’s authority to require disclosure of financially relevant information to include small political expenditures. The NRA told legislators that voting for the Disclose Act would count against them on the NRA scorecard.  SEC officials are now designing a disclosure rule for corporate political expenditures.

Survival in politics usually means having a sense of humor. Here are some ways that people have used the Supreme Court’s statement that corporations are actually persons:

  • Carpooling: California resident Jonathan Frieman put his corporate paperwork on the passenger seat on his commute in the freeway carpool lane. The judge found Frieman guilty, but he plans to appeal.
  • Marriage: Angela Vogel successfully filed for a marriage certificate in Seattle and held a public wedding with “Corporate Personhood,” but the relationship was shortlived. The license was revoked because Corporate Person couldn’t consent.
  •  “Welfare Mamas”: If people like Mitt Romney call people who don’t pay taxes “moochers” and “the 47 percent,” then corporations that don’t pay taxes fall into that category. ExxonMobil, Bank of America, GE, and Chevron are just a few of these “welfare mamas.”
  • Murder: When executives bankrupt companies, such as Hostess Foods, they are killing one of the “people.” Although no one has acted on this yet, the CEOs should be taken to court for murder. When executives bankrupt a company, in the eyes of the law, they are essentially ending a life. Stephen Colbert used Romney as an example of a serial killer.
  • Candidate for Political Office: Murray Hill, Inc. ran for a Congressional seat in Maryland in 2010 with the slogan “For the best democracy money can buy.” Its problem was that the company could not register as a Republican because it could not prove U.S. citizenship.

Even McConnell attributes human feelings to the corporation “people.” In his concern that requiring companies to disclose their campaign spending would stifle their free speech, he says that the demand for transparency exposes these corporations “to harassment and intimidation.” That’s in comparison to the past term of “accountability.” At one time, McConnell supported reforms to create transparency of campaign funding.

The Watergate scandals over 40 years ago started with secret campaign money. Even the Supreme Court Citizens United decision upheld the constitutionality of disclosure requirements on corporations and other outside groups. This part of the ruling needs to be upheld.

Tomorrow is the culmination of the debate regarding the change of Senate filibuster rules. Either the Senate does it tomorrow, or the same dysfunction will exist in that chamber for another two years.


A Las Vegas police officer, 52-year-old Hans Walters, killed his police officer wife, 46-year-old Michelle Walters, and their son. Walters had worked for the Las Vegas police department for over 20 years; associates said that they had detected nothing wrong. At least 1100 people have died of gun deaths since the Newtown (CT) massacre.

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