Introduction and remarks begins at about the 18:30 mark.
Introduction and remarks begins at about the 18:30 mark.
by Greg Coleridge
The midterm elections are over. Candidates have been elected and unelected. Ballot issues have been passed and rejected.
What hasn’t changed one iota, however, are the catastrophic harms to people, communities, the natural world and our republican form of self-government caused by the assertion of constitutional rights for corporations, and by political campaign money being defined as First Amendment-protected free speech.
Many believe these problems began with the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United v FEC decision. It’s true that Citizens United further opened the monetary floodgates onto political elections. The Court asserted that the First Amendment’s free speech clause prohibits government restrictions of “independent expenditures” for political communications by for-profit corporations, nonprofit corporations, labor unions and other groups.
Since the Supreme Court had previously ruled that corporations were “persons” with free speech rights, corporate funds could now be raised in unlimited sums for “independent” communication (i.e. candidate advertisements by entities that are not coordinated with the candidate). A separate federal court decision based on Citizens United lifted the same legal restrictions on individuals.
The result has frequently been stomach-turning attack ads from across the ideological spectrum that distort the truth about candidates and issues. In addition, when money determines who has access to the podiums, microphones and loudspeakers in an arena, the voices of people and groups without money are relegated to the hallways, basements and back alleys.
The $200 million-plus spent on the Illinois governor’s race, much of it from the wealthy candidates themselves, typifies further movement away from a republican form of self-government and towards a plutocracy (i.e. rule of, by and for the wealthy). Corporate spending on election advertising in Illinois and elsewhere, much of it untraceable “dark money,” represents a second parallel threat—corptocracy (i.e. rule of, by and for corporations).
More than reversing Citizens United is needed to create fair and democratic elections and more than fair and democratic elections are needed to create a legitimate republican form of self-government in which We the People rule.
Our government is broken because the system is fixed—as in rigged to benefit the super-wealthy and corporations. The core problems are the constitutional “rights” anointed by the Supreme Court on corporations and on money spent in elections—both of which predate Citizens United.
Corporations weren’t intended by this nation’s founders to become the governing institution in our country and world. Corporations are creations of government, originally chartered one at a time by legislative acts, which listed specific legal protections and privileges to create useful goods and services, but not with inalienable constitutional rights. Corporate charters were democratic instruments. Corporations that violated their charter provisions regularly had those charters revoked by state legislatures or state courts. We the People were sovereign, corporate creations of the state were subordinate.
No corporation was immune, even the most powerful ones. A Republican state Attorney General sought to revoke Standard Oil Corporation’s charter in 1892 for disregarding its provisions.
The Ohio Supreme Court, in a 1900 ruling to dissolve a dairy company, stated: “The time has not yet arrived when the created is greater than the creator, and it still remains the duty of the courts to perform their office in the enforcement of the laws, no matter how ingenious the pretexts for their violation may be, nor the power of the violators in the commercial world.”
Corporations worked strategically to shift democratic control over to the corporate form in three ways: from the state to the federal level, from the legislative arena to regulatory agencies, and from the legislative arena to the courts. All three strategies sought to move corporate definition beyond the reach of the public and, thus, undermine our republican form of self-government.
The most effective approach was to shield corporate actions by the Supreme Court. Despite the Constitution not mentioning corporations and the Bill of Rights meant to solely apply to human beings, corporate attorneys argued that constitutional rights applied to their clients. Activist Supreme Courts agreed and concocted for over a century corporate constitutional rights out of thin air.
Corporate constitutional rights now include First Amendment free speech and religion, Fourth Amendment freedom from search and seizure, Fifth Amendment freedom from takings, Fourteenth Amendment due process and equal protection, and Commerce and Contracts Clause “rights.”
These never-intended rights have allowed corporations to hijack our republican form of self-government well beyond influencing elections through their “right” to make political donations. These include the rights:
Corporate constitutional rights are just one head of our anti-democratic hydra. The other is the constitutional protection of political money defined as free speech. This dates to the 1976 Buckley v Valeo decision. If money is political speech, as the Supreme Court stated, then those with the most money have the most speech. This is not an ingredient for anything approaching a republican form of self-government, more likely for a plutocracy.
No presidential decree, legislative statute or regulation can end corporate constitutional rights and money defined as free speech. The only solution is a constitutional amendment.
Move to Amend is a national non-partisan coalition of hundreds of organizations and over 450,000 individuals committed to social and economic justice, ending corporate rule and building a vibrant democracy that is genuinely accountable to the people, not corporate interests.
It calls for the We the People Amendment (H.J.R. 48) to the Constitution, declaring that inalienable rights belong to human beings only, not to mere legal entities, and that money is not a form of protected speech under the First Amendment and can be regulated in political campaigns. Sixty-five U.S. House Representatives have endorsed H.J.R. 48. It will soon be introduced in the U.S. Senate. More than 750 communities have passed either local or state resolutions or ballot measures calling for such an Amendment.
Building an authentically multicultural, intergenerational and transpartisan grassroots democracy movement is the only realistic route toward this end. This currently seems pie-in-the-sky. Yet we’re now facing profound political, economic, social and environmental crises. None of this is sustainable. Limits are rapidly being reached. What seems impossible at the moment can quickly become inevitable. Our visions have been repressed by our dominant culture about what is doable, realistic and inevitable – not to mention what is just, democratic and sustainable.
A Move to Amend-sponsored public program recently took place in Champaign-Urbana. There’s interest in exploring what can be done locally to join this growing national movement. If interested in joining this exploration, contact Doug Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Greg Coleridge is Outreach Director at Move to Amend. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
Corporate mergers tend to run in cycles — which we’re in one right now. The AT&T-Time Warner deal and proposed Comcast-FOX consolidation are merely the latest in a year (less than half over) that has seen over $2 trillion shelled out for mergers. Besides the problems of economic concentration caused by mergers and the mirrored increase in political power and influence, merged corporations help create and precede recessions. Merger manias tends to peak before recessions. Peaks in the past have coincided with increases in rate hikes by the corporate-controlled Federal Reserve — which happened this week. That’s because corporations heavily borrowed when money was cheap to borrow due to low Federal Reserve-set rates. Now that rates are rising, debt will be more expense by corporations, government and people to pay off. Sad to say but expect to see a serious economic recession in our near future…
What does this year’s Oscar winner for best film and the topic of a new book on corporate power have in common? Besides the Oscar announcement and book release being just days apart, the title of the best film, “The Shape of Water” describes a property of nature that corresponds to a major theme described in We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights by UCLA Law Professor Adam Winkler.
Like water, corporations are increasingly legally malleable and pliable. Water conforms to whatever shape it occupies. It’s natural law. The “shape” or definition of corporations is not due to gravity or any other law of nature. The “shape of corporations” is increasingly due to intentional and deliberate activist Supreme Court decisions over more than the past century, with some decisions seemingly contradicting previous ones, yet virtually always providing corporations greater flexibility and power.
The widening and deepening anger over the ever-expanding abuses and assaults of corporations to people, communities and the planet coupled with the frustration that traditional activist responses are less effective has given rise to greater interest in the subject that Winkler examines: corporate personhood and rights.
Winkler’s historical account of how corporations came to acquire constitutional rights of people is helpful, especially if it reaches new audiences. It’s a history, however, that for the past number of years, if not decades, has been shared in great detail in talks, writings, workshops and videos by the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy, Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom, Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund and Move to Amend – as well as in earlier books, most notably Unequal Protection: How Corporations Became ‘People’ and How You Can Fight Back by Thom Hartmann. That history spelled out that the shape of corporations was not like water, but more like bedrock – strictly defined by We the People through elected representatives by separate corporate charters and later general incorporation acts. Sovereign people were in charge of their legal creations with corporations only possessing privileges, not inalienable rights.
Not as helpful for people wanting to understand this complex topic and interested in taking meaningful action for fundamental change is Winkler’s lack of clarity in some of the articles about his book over the term “corporate personhood.” “Corporate personhood” and “corporate constitutional rights” are not the same.
Legal personhood for incorporated entities (i.e. corporate personhood) are legal rights established by governmental laws — known as statutory rights. The legal capacity or legal “personality” of corporation includes the ability to make contracts and other obligations, hold property, sue to enforce their rights and be sued for breach of duty.
Constitutional rights, including the Bill of Rights, were originally intended solely for human beings — albeit, at first, only to white, male, property owners. Constitutional rights were never intended to apply to corporate entities. The word “corporation” is not mentioned anywhere in the Constitution. Corporate constitutional rights have been granted exclusively by the unelected body of the Supreme Court. No public official or voter has ever had the authority to grant corporate entities inalienable constitutional rights.
The growing grassroots movement to end corporate constitutional rights, facilitated by Move to Amend, and proposed by its We the People Amendment – declaring that only human beings possess inalienable constitutional rights and that money in political elections, which is not equivalent to First Amendment free speech, can be legislatively regulated — doesn’t advocate to end corporate personhood, only corporate constitutional rights. Corporate personhood and corporate constitutional rights are not interchangeable, at least not in the law. Mixing the two only produces confusion, which leads to inaction, which we as people under expanding corporate assaults and plunders cannot afford at a time when fundamental democratic change is urgent.
The repeated fears expressed by Winkler and others that ending corporate rights would result in random government seizure of property or censorship of the media doesn’t square with the law or reality and, again, confuses corporate personhood and constitutional rights. A corporation as an entity representing the collective individual constitutional rights of its shareholders to defend their property rights would not change with the abolition of the corporation’s constitutional rights. The landmark New York Times v. Sullivan case upholding freedom of the press made no mention of the newspaper’s corporate form – what shielded the Times was the First Amendment’s “freedom of the press” not corporate constitutional rights. And why do we never, ever hear of such grave injustices toward corporations in other western “democracies” – countries with statutory protections of corporations (i.e. personhood) but apparently none of which have anointed corporations with inalienable constitutional rights? How many “corporate persons” have we seen on life rafts flocking to U.S. shores to escape the carnage of corporate “death penalties” and other miseries to the corporate life and limb?
Winkler makes an important point that the Supreme Court decreasingly considers corporations as their own legal person in constitutional cases. The Citizen United v. FEC ruling, for example, which expanded the ability of corporate entities to donate (or invest) in elections wasn’t based on the “corporations are people” premise, but rather on two arguments. First, limiting corporate political speech was a violation not because the organization Citizens United was a corporate person, but because limiting its corporate speech violated “listeners’ rights.” The person, not the government, had “the right and privilege to determine for itself what speech and speakers are worthy of consideration,” stated Justice Kennedy in his majority opinion. Second, limiting Citizens United’s political speech was actually a limit on collective individual speech since the corporation is merely a type of voluntary association of people, specifically shareholders. It’s not just individuals who have constitutional rights, so the argument goes, but individuals in their associated form who come together for mutual purposes.
While the Court has a long history of concocting fantastic pretzel-like legal contortions to justify widening the power and rights of the few and privileged and denying the rights of those historically oppressed (i.e. justifying women as subordinate to men, slaves as property, holding up Jim Crow segregation for sixty years, etc.), it’s nevertheless critical to understand and strategically counter the latest defenses to corporate concentrated power.
A person has no more the inalienable right to “listen” as (s)he has the rights to speak at will, for as long as (s)he may want for hours on end before, say, a city council meeting – including being prohibited from speaking at all if the message isn’t germane or the person may live outside the community. Reasonable limits are legitimate and the rule (e.g., usually a five minute maximum testimony at council meetings). Curious that nowhere in the Citizens United ruling was referenced rights to be heard from individuals whose voices are drowned out since they aren’t wealthy or don’t own a corporation. These rights are completely absent from the equation when calculating corporate free speech.
When it comes to corporations as nothing more than an association of persons, it’s back to the “shape of water” argument. When it’s convenient for a corporation to be separate from its shareholders to avoid being personally liable for a corporate malfeasance, then there’s zero connection, but when it’s convenient for the corporation to shield itself behind its human employees, shareholders, etc., then it’s nothing more than that — a mask to shirk responsibility. Corporate agents can’t have it both ways.
For those of us dedicated to opening up the democracy space that corporations have forever been trying to close, it’s necessary that any final proposed constitutional amendment addressing corporate rule close these loopholes.
Winkler has stated, “[t]he question is not whether corporations should have rights but which rights corporations should have. Today’s steady expansion of corporate rights is a product of giving corporations the same rights as their members. Instead, we should treat corporations as separate legal persons — with only those rights appropriate for corporations.” He’s correct. The corporate rights or protections that corporations should possess should be statutory. Inalienable rights belong alone to human beings.
Corporations have been playacting as “persons” in too many ways for too long – well deserving its own separate academy award for the category of “Worse Stand in for a Human Being.” Yet the Oscar it deserves is no more a legal person than Oscar Meyer (the corporation). Both are objects created by human beings to presumably serve some useful purpose (though maybe questionable given the ingredients in many hot dogs). It’s time that we clearly affirm that unalienable constitutional rights must be reserved exclusively for human beings, not for a hot dog or any corporation– no matter how much they may dramatically act like one.
The legal profession — too many Supreme Court Justices, almost all corporate attorneys and more than a few constitutional law professors — has been the directors and producers of this frightful show. With straight faces they have expanded or argued for corporate rights over human rights and the right to thrive in a livable world.
We cannot be intimidated or confused. While not lawyers or jurists, the vast majority of people in this country have PhDs on being on the short end of one assault or another by wealthy corporations. Permitting such assaults to people, communities and the planet – be they defended by corporate constitutional rights, listener’s rights or any other concocted bogus legal constructs — is the ultimate theatrical fantasy that has been a real life disaster that only an independent, diverse and fearless democracy movement will end.
(Photo: Peoples World/flickr/cc)
Trump’s claim that “we are giving them a big, beautiful Christmas present in the form of a tremendous tax cut” is spot on when applied to corporations and the super rich.
by Greg Coleridge
Contacts: Lois Romanoff, 216-231-2170, firstname.lastname@example.org
Chris Stocking, 440-376-8400, Christopher.Stocking@gmail.com
Diane Karpinski, 216-921-2474, email@example.com
Greg Coleridge, 216-255-2184, firstname.lastname@example.org
For immediate release, December 8, 2016
Cleveland City Council passes ordinance calling for U.S. Constitutional Amendment on corporate power and money in elections; creates biennial Democracy Day
[Cleveland, OH] Cleveland City Council Monday night passed an ordinance calling on Congress to enact a Constitutional Amendment ending constitutional rights for corporate entities and to money being defined as free speech. The ordinance also establishes an every-other-year “Democracy Day” public hearing that will address the impact on the City of political contributions by corporations, unions, Political Action Committees, and Super-PACS; the first to be held in May, 2017
The Cleveland Move to Amend (MTA) campaign, part of the national Move to Amend movement that is proposing the Constitutional Amendment, had submitted last summer more than 5000 valid signatures by volunteers required by the City Charter to place the initiative on the ballot.
“We thank Cleveland City Council for taking a position on this important national issue,” said Lois Romanoff, co-chair of Cleveland Move to Amend. “We feel local public officials need to oppose the growing corrupting influence power corporate entities in our society and big money in our elections. It’s clear from the recent election that voters believe government has been captured by interests who don’t represent people without money or power.”
“We urged City Council to place the citizen initiative on the ballot for voter consideration rather than simply enact the initiative, said Chris Stocking, co-chair of Cleveland Move to Amend. “We feel these issues are important enough to have not only Cleveland public officials take a position, but Cleveland citizens. A ballot measure would have given us the opportunity to broadly discuss with the community the many problems connected with corporate power and large campaign contributions from the super wealthy.”
“While we had hoped Cleveland City Council would have permitted our initiative to go to the ballot, we look forward to working with them to hold the first biennial Democracy Day public hearing next May,” said Diane Karpinski, member of Cleveland MTA. The hearing will be an ongoing arena to shed light on the problems of and alternatives to corporate constitutional rights and the rights of unlimited money being spent in elections.”
“Hundreds of communities across the nation have already enacted municipal resolutions and/or ballot measures in support of this Constitutional Amendment,” said Greg Coleridge, Move to Amend Ohio coordinator and Director of the NE Ohio American Friends Service Committee. “Twenty two communities in Ohio have, to date, taken a stand — 12 via municipal resolution and 10 by the ballot, including this past November with 82% of Shaker Heights voters and 77% of South Euclid voters.”
Citizens in Brecksville, Chagrin Falls, Cleveland Heights, Defiance, Kent, Mentor, Newburgh Heights, and Toledo previously passed a similar ballot initiative while the communities of Athens, Barberton, Bedford Heights, Canton, Dayton, Fremont, Lakewood, Lorain, Oakwood Village, Oberlin, Oxford, and South Euclid passed city council resolutions supporting the Move to Amend-backed Constitutional Amendment.
Move to Amend support the We the People Amendment, HJR 48. It’s co-sponsored by 22 U.S. Representatives.
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