On the Subject of Corporate Personhood

While reading a New York Times article (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/24/over-the-cliff/?ref=opinion) this morning, I came across an interesting piece on the Supreme Court’s decisions about how to regulate speech, particularly, political speech by corporations.  In one of the Court’s decisions that started this whole mess, Boston v. Bellotti, the majority, finding in favor of the corporation, said, “If the speakers here were not corporations, no one would suggest that the state could silence their proposed speech.”  In essence, we should treat the speech of individuals and corporations the same.

But isn’t this discrimination?  The U.S., by and large, cannot give some people different/more rights than others, yet with corporations, the federal and state governments do it all the time.  For example, there are all kinds of different tax laws written for specific corporations or groups of corporations.  This is why a small business ends up paying all of its taxes while GE gets a billion dollar refund, why oil companies get tax breaks, and why corporate farms receive subsidies for their crops.  If indeed, individuals and corporations have the same rights, then isn’t this discrimination?  Doesn’t the 14th Amendment guarantee equality before the law?  People would be outraged if the government passed a law that said: Frank Lutz and his family shall pay only 10% of their taxable salaries–especially when they used millions of dollars to lobby the government and influence our elections in order to pass it.  Yet, as pointed out earlier, there are all kinds of laws on the books that pertain only to specific corporations, companies, and businesses.  This is the reality of how our government now functions: corporations lobby for or against laws as their interests see fit, and spend money on elections in order that we might elect people who are pliable to those interests.  How is this not discrimination, not to mention, out and out corruption?

Consider this: earlier this year, the Supreme Court struck down an Arizona law that supplied any candidate who chose to use public funding with a matching program so that they would not be outspent by their privately financed opponent.  The majority, (5 to 4, as most of these cases have been decided) written by John Roberts, decided that the law, in effect, imposed a fine on the privately financed person’s speech, because laws like this “inhibit robust and wide open political debate.”  How?  How does a law that allows someone funding to run a campaign, stating their political philosophy, inhibit debate?  If anything, it would enhance it, because now a person whose beliefs don’t happen to include kowtowing to corporations or other wealthy donors actually has a chance to let people hear what they have to say.  Isn’t this an example of blatant discrimination against people with certain political beliefs, and therefore a violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment?

If Justice Roberts truly wants to promote a “robust and wide open political debate,” how can he possibly justify any of his Court’s decisions?  Nearly every decision that he has made favors corporate speech to the speech of citizens, and in a sense, the Arizona and Citizens United decisions have basically mandated that not only does money equal speech, but worse, that monied, corporate speech is preferred to the speech of average U.S. citizens–in a word: discrimination.  It now comes down to this: your political speech, aside from your right to vote, is directly proportional to the amount of money that you have available to spend influencing elections.  This means that we no longer have a democracy–what we have is no better than a monarchy: corporations are the monarchs, and all we do is vote on who carries their letters, collects their taxes, and enforces their laws.

About The Author: Jay Scott


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