Copyright © 2011 jsd

Corporate Speech and Political Corruption
John Denker

1  The Main Point

In 1910, Theodore Roosevelt said “There can be no effective control of corporations while their political activity remains. [...] Corporate expenditures for political purposes ... have supplied one of the principal sources of corruption in our political affairs.”        (reference 1)

Things are much worse now than they were 100 years ago. Corporate money has corrupted our government. For details, see reference 2.

2  Personhood is Not the Issue

1.    Technically speaking, the issue of “personhood” is irrelevant to the Citizens United ruling. The ruling is based on the first amendment, which is expressed as a limitation on Congress, not a right granted to persons. Let’s be clear: Even if you treat corporations as non-persons, Congress would still not be allowed to limit speech. See reference 3.

2.    Corporations are not human beings. This is not a tricky concept. Corporations are not human beings.

3.    A group of people is stronger if they act together and speak with one voice. An example is the Declaration of goals and principles, which the Occupy encampment adopted by consensus.

As a minor point of terminology, there is an 2000-year-old Latin word for such a group. The word is corpus, corporis. This is the root of the English word corporation, which just means a body of people acting together. It is also the root of the word corpse, meaning dead body.

Under the law, a corporation is a body without a soul.

4.    The Guido Fawkes mask as shown in figure 1 sometimes serves as a symbol of Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy movement in general.

Masks have been around for a long time. Figure 2 shows a 2000-year-old theatrical mask of Dionysos (also known as Bacchus). This is the personification of drunkenness, debauchery, decadence, and bad governance ... so, loosely speaking, it is the opposite of what the Occupy movment stands for.

guyfawkesmask   Dionysos_mask
Figure 1: Persona : Guido Fawkes   Figure 2: Persona : Dionysos

As a minor point of terminology, the Latin word for mask is persona. That is the root of our word for person.

Under the law, Koch Industries is allowed to have a persona. It’s just a mask, just like the Giudo mask or the Dionysos mask.

When the law speaks of a corporate person, it just means a body with a mask. It’s a body without a soul.

As a point of legal terminology, a human being is sometimes called a natural person or an individual person, in contrast to a corporation, which is a corporate person.

When lawyers mention the word “person” they sometimes mean it to apply to corporate persons as well as natural persons ... and sometimes not. Here are some contrasting examples:

The law allows a corporate person to enter into a contract in much the same way as a natural person. This is not a big deal.   The constitution (reference 4) requires the census to count “the whole number of persons in each State” but nobody is crazy enough to think the Census Bureau is required to count corporations.

In any case, the fact remains that corporations are not human beings, and lawyers are smart enough to write laws that take this into account ... when they want to.

5.    The Declaration of Independence (reference 5) says in part:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That is to say, human beings are created by God and have God-given rights.

Corporations are not created by God. They are created by people, if and when we choose to create them. They have no God-given existence, let alone liberty, happiness, or anything else. Corporations are not even mentioned in the Constitution. They have permission to do whatever we, the people, allow them to do, and nothing more.

Large corporations wield enormously concentrated power. There is no constituational right to concentrated political power. Indeed, the Constitution goes to great lengths to prevent over-concentration of power. For example, on a per-capita basis, a Wyoming voter has 65 times more representation in the Senate than a California voter does. The Framers arranged this, in order to protect small states from the concentrated power of large states. The Bill of Rights serves to protect individuals against concentrated power. For more than 200 years, it was considered obvious that nothing in constitution requires us to give corporations any political power whatsoever ... let alone concentrated, unlimited political power.

The Citizens United ruling is the most outrageous example of right-wing judicial activism since Bush v. Gore.

6.    Note the contrast between ideas and terminology:

Ideas are primary and fundamental.   Terminology is tertiary. Terminology is important only insofar as it helps us formulate and communicate the ideas.

If your ideas are correct, defend and explain the ideas.   Don’t defend the terminology.

Sometimes changing the terminology is the best way to defend and explain the ideas.   If somebody tries to trick you into arguing about the terminology, do not take the bait.

The crucial idea has to do with power and corruption. Large corporations have vastly too much political power. Corporate money has severely corrupted all three branches of our government.   Do not argue about corporate personhood. Even if it were the right idea, it would be the wrong terminology. If you argue about corporate personhood, you are going to lose on a technicality. So don’t go there.

The simple fact remains: Corporations are not human beings. They are not created the same way, they are not taxed the same way, they do not have voting rights, and they do not have free speech rights.

The connection between corporate campaign donations and corporate lobbying is practically indistinguishable from bribery.

3  References

Theodore Roosevelt, “The New Nationalism”
Osawatomie, Kansas (1910)

Lawrence Lessig, “Good Soul Corruption” (2011)
Four minute highlight: http://blip.tv/play/lG3yvRgA
Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYIh0RHhAGg
Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2iG0vZiGdfs

Ibid, at this point: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2iG0vZiGdfst=25m15s

“The Constitution of the United States”

“Declaration of Independence”

Copyright © 2011 jsd