Monday, October 19, 2009

why should corporations be considered people?

This is a very big deal and there is a lot of information out there on the subject.

For more background, go here, and also Google Citizens United v Federal Election Commission

In the recent argument before the Supreme Court one of the issues was how corporations differ from human beings. I am not sure that is germane to the public policy reasons why a corporation should be treated differently under the law this purpose or for that one, but it took up a significant part of the time during the argument.

Here is an interesting comment from Justice Scalia

"Most corporations are indistinguishable from the individual who owns them, the local hairdresser, the new auto dealer -- dealer who has just lost his dealership and -- and who wants to oppose whatever Congressman he thinks was responsible for this happening or whatever Congressman won't try to patch it up by -- by getting the auto company to undo it. There is no distinction between the individual interest and the corporate interest," Scalia said. "And that is true for the vast majority of corporations."

A number of fallacies in that but the questions it begs for me is this: if there is no distinction between the individual interest and the individuals who own them why should the individuals who own them care, one way or the other, whether those corporations are more limited in their political rights than they are as individuals?

Why would the individuals who own those corporations not be satisfied exercising their own political rights and be seeking, instead, to exercise them through a corporation?

One answer of many, I think, is that some of those who control larger corporations (as opposed to those who "own" them) have access to a lot more money through that control than they have to money as an individual. Unions are often criticized for spending members' money to support candidates that this member or that member do not support. Why should corporations be able to support political candidates with the money that belongs to shareholders who might not favor that particular candidate?

Recently there was quite a stir that Rush Limbaugh might be part of a consortium of investors who will bid to buy the St Louis Ram football team. If he became a stockholder in that corporation how would he feel about the fact that, between 1989 and 2009, more than 98% of the political contributions of the Rams (and anyone identified as earning income from the team on campaign reporting documents) have gone to Democrats?

Would Rush think it was unfair that a pot of money in which he has an equity interest should be supporting a socialist, fascist, Democrat party intent on destroying America?

Would it be fair to force him to put up with that?

I have to give the Lily to Justice Scalia, with a shout out to Justice Roberts and Thomas for the cynical way in which they are analyzing this issue.

Corporations exist to give groups of human being "super powers" and "super protections" in the economic realm. Corporations can do things that human beings cannot. There are all kinds of good reasons, from an economic standpoint, to "be" a corporation--as well I know. But no one should have super powers or super protections in the political realm, should they?

Well, of course they do. That's why this situation is just one more iteration of the basic problem: spending money is not exercising political speech--not withstanding the contortions of Buckley v. Vallejo. The fact that one can think it is the same just indicates how beguiling analogies can be, and how much they can distort reality.

The fact that the way campaigning is done these days (spending huge amounts of money to manipulate masses of people through the media) means that the more money one spends on campaign contributions the more valuable one is as a supporter to someone running for office.

If I can make a captive audience of a politician--say I find out that the person in the center seat next to me on the airplane is a member of Congress--and talk to them for longer and even more persuasively than anyone else does on a particular issue am I going to have more influence on how they vote on that issue than if I give them more money than anyone else to run for office while mentioning how I see that same issue?

Money is far more powerful as a means of persuading people locked into this current cash intensive way people run for office.

The answer would be to amend the Constitution to say that only individual human beings can contribute to political campaigns and that those human beings are limited to a modest sum of money (say $100 at the most) so that in a real way every one is equal (or almost so) in the eyes of the politician.

Why would the opinion of a CEO of a health insurance company get more weight than mine if, dollar for dollar, the two of us were equal? A politician would then, in determining how to vote, be forced to consider which of us made the most sense on the issue.

Could one run for office the way that's done now if the flow of money to politicians was restricted in the way I suggest? Of course not. And that would be a good thing. The appeal to people's emotions through manipulation of symbols through the mass media would be far less effective (although it would not, of course, disappear) than it is now. Candidates might have to do more personal contact (themselves or through people motivated to work for them by something other than money) with voters. They might have to...

Who am I kidding?

Think about how a Constitutional amendment comes to be. Are the people who are on top of the current system in any way about to do something like this?

I awarded the Lily several paragraphs above. Maybe I should have just stopped there.

1 comment:

kass said...

i agree. It's doubtful that there will be much change in such a capatilist society