Sunday, August 14, 2011

Corporations aren't people

Revisiting the notion that is re-shaping the political landscape of our nation

Are corporations people? Mitt Romney recently argued that they were on a campaign stop. The Supreme Court also ruled, in its Citizens United decision, that corporations were people, too. The argument certainly can be made that corporations are people based upon the fact that they are made up of many individuals with a similar goal in mind: profit for their corporation.

Yet, if you asked the average person, it's clear that there are reasonable distinctions between people and corporations. Corporations, for example, don't bleed, don't breathe, and don't eat; however, that's taking the argument to a simplistic level, one that's warranted for sure but still worth looking into the subject at greater depth.

People and corporations each face different pressures, different challenges when it comes to survival. Both can, in theory, "die;" but while we're well aware of how a person dies, a corporation only dies when it fails to make a profit and goes into the red. People also face the pressures of keeping themselves healthy, of paying the rent, of taking care of their families, etc. while the comparative versions of these for corporations focus solely on that entity making money. Corporations worry about staying healthy (by being profitable), paying rent (by making enough money to survive), and taking care of its families (by ensuring its subsidiaries are profitable, too).

These are very important things for corporations to do: however, this does not make corporations the same as people -- Wal-Mart cannot drive a car, cannot walk to the park, and perhaps most importantly cannot vote in elections.

That last distinction is the most important of all to consider: corporate entities aren't permitted to vote, aren't allowed the right to make decisions regarding the makeup of our democratic republic, because they aren't, in the end, people.

The reason that this matters is that the whole Citizens United decision existed solely to allow corporations to take part in our democratic process through influencing elections in campaign donations. That Supreme Court decision allows corporations to insert as much campaign cash as they want, since they are made up of "people," which in turn somehow make corporations people too.

But there's nothing to say that the individuals within that corporation can't make donations on their own to campaigns -- just as individuals are allowed to vote because they are "people," so too should they be the sole entities (and not corporations) allowed to donate to political causes.

In the end, it's hard to convince anyone that corporations are "people," especially since they cannot interact or behave like people do. In our political process, this is further demonstrated by the fact that corporations cannot vote. In the same way, they shouldn't be allowed to make campaign contributions the same way people can. Keeping corporate influence out of our politics is important because the only thing that should have ANY influence on our government leaders' decision-making should be REAL people, not institutions that have pseudo-personhood.

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