“Corporations as People” • Celia Murray
GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s assertion that “corporations are people, too” has been often quoted. In one sense, he is correct – the law views corporations as “artificial beings” having the power to engage in virtually all business activities that a natural person may pursue – enter into contracts, buy and sell property in its own name, be held responsible for its acts, incur civil liability, and be charged with criminal acts.
The Supreme Court, in Citizens United, took matters much further, however, holding that corporations enjoy the First Amendment’s free speech protection that traditionally was afforded only to people, and make donations in its own name. The ramifications of that decision are seen in the many millions of dollars being spent by corporations on political advertising.
But the Supreme Court failed to acknowledge that corporations have no conscience – they are amoral creatures which exist only to make money. There is a natural tension between the interests of officers and directors of a corporation, whose sole job it is to make money, and the interests of others, including society as a whole. Profit motives drive companies to manufacture products using inferior materials and use manufacturing processes that create toxic pollutants spewed into the air or water.
But perhaps even more important, the flood of all that corporate money into campaigns has a corrupting effect. Sen. John McCain, co-sponsor of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, which was demolished by Citizens United, recently discussed the issue on the PBS show Newshour. McCain reiterated that he has long been passionate about the idea of restricting the amount of money in campaigns.
The Republican senator expressed concerns that the country is now in a period where money is going to play a dominant role in American politics, saying, “that's going to be the case, because of the most misguided, naive, uninformed, egregious decision of the United States Supreme Court I think in the 21st century.”
“To somehow view money as not having an effect on election, a corrupting effect on election, flies in the face of reality.” McCain continued. “Look, I guarantee you…there will be scandals. There is too much money washing around political campaigns today. And it will take scandals, and then maybe we can have the Supreme Court go back and revisit this issue… So I'm afraid we're in for a very bleak period in American politics.”
McCain concluded this by saying, “(W)e need a level playing field and we need to go back to the realization that Teddy Roosevelt had that we have to have a limit on the flow of money, and that corporations are not people… That's why we have different laws that govern corporations than govern individual citizens. And so to say that corporations are people, again, flies in the face of all the traditional Supreme Court decisions…that have been made in the past.”
Massachusetts senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren summed it up even better: “No, Mitt, corporations are not people. People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick... They live and they die. Learn the difference. And Mitt, learn this: we don't run this country for corporations, we run it for people."
Well said, Warren.
Celia Murray is a member of the Morgan County Democratic Committee.